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Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co.

Court of Appeals of New York

February 24, 1928, Argued ; May 29, 1928, Decided

No Number in Original


 [*340]   [**99]  Plaintiff was standing on a platform of defendant's railroad after buying a ticket to go to Rockaway Beach. A train stopped at the station, bound for another place. Two men ran forward to catch it. One of the men reached the platform of the car without mishap, though the train was already moving. The other 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 [***4]  forward to help  [*341]  him in, and another guard on the platform pushed him from behind. In this act, the package was dislodged, and fell upon the rails. It was a package of small size, about fifteen inches long, and was covered by a newspaper. In fact it contained fireworks, but there was nothing in its appearance to give notice of its contents. The fireworks 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.

The conduct of the defendant's guard, if a wrong in its relation to the holder of the package, was not a wrong in its relation to the plaintiff, standing far away. Relatively to her it was not negligence at all. Nothing in the situation gave notice that the falling package had in it the potency of peril to persons thus removed.  ] 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" (Pollock, Torts [11th ed.], p. 455; Martin v. Herzog, 228 N. Y. 164, 170; cf. Salmond, Torts [6th ed.], p.  [***5]  24). "Negligence is the absence of care, according to the circumstances" (Willes, J., in Vaughan v. Taff Vale Ry. Co., 5 H. & N. 679, 688; 1 Beven, Negligence [4th ed.], 7; Paul v. Consol. Fireworks Co., 212 N. Y. 117; Adams v. Bullock, 227 N. Y. 208, 211; Parrott v. Wells-Fargo Co., 15 Wall. [U.S.] 524). The plaintiff as she stood upon the platform of the station might claim to be protected against intentional invasion of her bodily security.  Such invasion is not charged.  She might claim to be protected against unintentional invasion by conduct involving in the thought of reasonable men an unreasonable hazard that such invasion would ensue. These, from the point of view of the law, were the bounds of her immunity, with perhaps some rare exceptions, survivals for the most part of ancient forms of liability, where conduct is held to be at the peril of the actor ( Sullivan v. Dunham, 161 N. Y. 290).  [*342]  ] 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 [***6]  not one involving the risk of bodily insecurity, with reference to some one else. "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,  [**100]  the observance of which would have averted or avoided the injury" (McSherry, C. J., in W. Va. Central R. Co. v. State, 96 Md. 652, 666; cf. Norfolk & Western Ry. Co. v. Wood, 99 Va. 156, 158, 159; Hughes v. Boston & Maine R. R. Co., 71 N. H. 279, 284; U. S. Express Co. v. Everest, 72 Kan. 517; Emry v. Roanoke Nav. Co., 111 N. C. 94, 95; Vaughan v. Transit Dev. Co., 222 N. Y. 79; Losee v. Clute, 51 N. Y. 494; DiCaprio v. N. Y. C. R. R. Co., 231 N. Y. 94; 1 Shearman & Redfield on Negligence, § 8, and cases cited; Cooley on Torts [3d ed.], p. 1411; Jaggard on Torts, vol. 2, p. 826; Wharton, Negligence, § 24; Bohlen, Studies in the Law of Torts, p. 601). "The ideas of negligence and duty are strictly correlative" (Bowen, L. J., in Thomas v. Quartermaine, 18 Q. B. D. 685, 694). The plaintiff sues in her own right for a wrong personal to her, and not as the vicarious beneficiary [***7]  of a breach of duty to another.

A different conclusion will involve us, and swiftly too, in a maze of contradictions. A guard stumbles over a package which has been left upon a platform. It seems to be a bundle of newspapers. It turns out to be a can of dynamite. To the eye of ordinary vigilance, the bundle is abandoned waste, which may be kicked or trod on with impunity. Is a passenger at the other end of the platform protected by the law against the unsuspected hazard concealed beneath the waste? If not, is the result to be any different, so far as the distant passenger is concerned, when the guard stumbles over a valise  [*343]  which a truckman or a porter has left upon the walk? The passenger far away, if the victim of a wrong at all, has a cause of action, not derivative, but original and primary. His claim to be protected against invasion of his bodily security is neither greater nor less because the act resulting in the invasion is a wrong to another far removed. In this case, the rights that are said to have been violated, the interests said to have been invaded, are not even of the same order. The man was not injured in his person nor even put in danger. The [***8]  purpose of the act, as well as its effect, was to make his person safe. If there was a wrong to him at all, which may very well be doubted, it was a wrong to a property interest only, the safety of his package. Out of this wrong to property, which threatened injury to nothing else, there has passed, we are told, to the plaintiff by derivation or succession a right of action for the invasion of an interest of another order, the right to bodily security. The diversity of interests emphasizes the futility of the effort to build the plaintiff's right upon the basis of a wrong to some one else. The gain is one of emphasis, for a like result would follow if the interests were the same. Even then, the orbit of the danger as disclosed to the eye of reasonable vigilance would be the orbit of the duty. 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. Life will have to be made over, and human nature transformed, before prevision so extravagant can be accepted [***9]  as the norm of conduct, the customary standard to which behavior must conform.

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248 N.Y. 339 *; 162 N.E. 99 **; 1928 N.Y. LEXIS 1269 ***; 59 A.L.R. 1253

Helen Palsgraf, Respondent, v. The Long Island Railroad Company, Appellant

Prior History:  [***1]  Appeal from a judgment of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the second judicial department, entered December 16, 1927, affirming a judgment in favor of plaintiff entered upon a verdict.

 Palsgraf v. Long Island R. R. Co., 222 App. Div. 166, reversed.

Disposition: Judgment reversed, etc.


explosion, proximate cause, invasion, platform, proximate, package, chauffeur, passenger, Street, injure, rights, guard, baby, injuries, trespass, causes, stream, cases, trace, words

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