Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Palsgraf v. Long Island Railway case brief


Palsgraf v. Long Island Railway Co.

FACTS

-The Plaintiff was standing on a platform of D’s railroad after buying a ticket. 
-A train stopped at the station, bound for another place. 
-One man, carrying a package, jumped aboard the car, but seemed unsteady as if about to fall. 
-A guard on the car, who had held the door open, reached forward to help him in, and another guard on the platform pushed him from behind. 
-In this act, the package was dislodged, and fell upon the rails. 
-The package contained fireworks, and when they fell exploded. 
-The shock of the explosion threw down some scales at the other end of the platform, many feet away. 
-The scales struck the plaintiff, causing injuries for which she sues.

ISSUE
Was the negligence of the railway (if there was indeed negligence) enough to warrant a finding of proximate cause to the Pl., who was a distant bystander?
 
RULES
-Negligence is not actionable unless it involves the invasion of a legally protected interest, the violation of a right. “Proof of negligence in the air, so to speak, will not do.”
-The conduct of the defendant’s guard, if a wrong in its relation to the holder of the package, was not a wrong in it’s relation to the Pl., standing far away -- Relatively to her, it was not negligence at all.
[A]If no hazard was apparent to the eye of ordinary vigilance, an act innocent and harmless, at least to outward seeming, with reference to her, did not take to itself the quality of a tort because it happened to be a wrong, though apparently not one involving the risk of bodily insecurity, with reference to someone else.
[R]In every instance, before negligence can be predicated of a given act, back of the act must be sought and found a duty to the individual complaining, the observance of which would have averted or avoided the injury.
[Example of bomb in a crowd]
-One who jostles one’s neighbor in a crowd does not invade the rights of others standing at the outer fringe when the unintended contact casts a bomb upon the ground: the wrongdoer as to them is the man who carries the bomb, not the one who explodes it without suspicion of the danger.
-What the plaintiff must show is a wrong to herself, i.e a violation of her own right, and not merely a wrong to some one else, nor conduct ‘wrongful’ because unsocial, but not a ‘wrong’ to any one.
[Example of reckless speed through a city]
We are told that one who drives at reckless speed through a crowded city street is guilty of a negligent act and therefore of a wrongful one, irrespective of the consequences. Negligent the act is, and wrongful in the sense that it is unsocial, but wrongful and unsocial in relation to other travelers, only because the eye of vigilance perceives the risk of damage.
-If same act committed on a speedway or race course, it would lose its wrongful quality.
-the risk reasonably to be perceived defines the duty to be obeyed, and risk imports relation; it is risk to another or to others within the range of apprehension.
[R]It was not necessary that the defendant should have had notice of the particular method in which an accident would occur, if the possibility of an accident was clear to the ordinary prudent eye.

APPLICATION
-Here, by concession, there was nothing in the situation to suggest the most cautious mind that the parcel wrapped in newspaper would spread wreckage through the station.
-The law of causation, remote or proximate, is thus foreign to the case before us.
-If there is no tort to be redressed, there is no occasion to consider what damage might be recovered if there were a finding of a tort.
 
[DISSENTING OPINION]
[R]There is no negligence unless there is in the particular case a legal duty to take care, and this duty must be not which is owed to the plaintiff himself and not merely to others.
-”The measure of the Def.’s duty in determining whether a wrong has been committed is one thing, the measure of liability when a wrong has been committed is another.”
Due care is a duty imposed on each one of us to protect society from unnecessary danger, not to protect A, B, or C alone.
-If his act has a tendency to harm some one, it harms him a mile away as surely as it does those on the scene.
-The proposition is: Every one owes to the world at large the duty of refraining from those acts that may unreasonably threaten the safety of others.
[R]We have never, I think, held otherwise...Unreasonable risk being taken, its consequences are not confined to those who might probably be hurt.
[A]If this be so, we do not have a Pl. suing by “derivation or succession.” Her action is original and primary. Her claim is for a breach of duty to herself - not that she is subrogated to any right of action of the owner of the parcel or of a passenger standing at the scene of the explosion.
[Proximate cause]
-The proximate cause, involved as it may be with many other causes, must be, at the least, something without which the event would not happen.
The court must ask itself:
Whether there was a natural and continuous sequence between cause and effect.
Was the one a substantial factor in producing the other?
Was there a direct connection between them, w/o too many intervening causes?
Is the effect of a cause on result not too attenuated?
Is the cause likely, in the usual judgment of mankind, to produce the result?
By the exercise of prudent foresight, could the result be foreseen?
-The act in question was negligent, for its proximate consequences, the Def. is liable.
“Except for the explosion, she would have not been injured.” (substantial factor in bringing the result).
 
Notes
-For justice Cardozo, proximate cause was irrelevant, because if there is no duty to Pl., there can never be any liability to the Pl. regardless of causation.
-Dissenting: Proximate cause analysis to limit liability - Def. did owe a duty to Pl.

Tort Law

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