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Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co. - 222 A.D. 166, 225 N.Y.S. 412 (App. Div. 1927)

Rule:

In an action for injuries suffered by plaintiff while she was awaiting a train at defendant's station where the injuries were caused by explosion of fireworks dropped by another passenger, a jury might reasonably find that acts of the defendant's employees, in assisting the passenger while he was engaged in a negligent act, were also negligent. It is no defense that the employees were not chargeable with notice of the contents of the bundle carried by the passenger and which caused plaintiff's injuries.

(Procedural note: this 1927 opinion is not from the highest court. It will later be reversed in a landmark decision: 248 N.Y. 339 (Court of Appeals of New York, 1928). In the New York state court system, the Supreme Court is the trial level. The Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division (the court for this opinion) hears cases on first appeal. The highest court is the Court of Appeals of New York.)

Facts:

Plaintiff Helen Palsgraf was a passenger intending to take a train of defendant Long Island Railroad Company's on Aug. 24, 1924. While plaintiff was at the station waiting for her train, another train came into the station. After this train had started from the station, two young men came up and undertook to board it while the train was in motion. One of these men had a bundle under his arm. Two of defendant's employees undertook to help him onto the train while it was in motion, one of them the trainman and the other the man on the platform. The employees knocked the bundle out from under the passenger's arm and it fell under the train. The bundle contained explosive fireworks, which exploded and caused a large scale, near which plaintiff was standing, to be thrown against plaintiff, severely injuring her. There was no evidence to show that the passenger carrying the bundle had any authority or permit under the Code of Ordinances of the City of New York to carry or transport fireworks, or of the value of the fireworks, and it did not appear that the provisions of such Code of Ordinances were violated. Plaintiff filed an action in New York state court against defendant to recover damages resulting from defendant's alleged negligence. After a verdict was rendered for plaintiff, defendant filed for a motion for new trial. The court denied the motion and entered judgment on the verdict. Defendant appealed, contending that an accident in which plaintiff was injured as she awaited her train was not caused by the negligence of its employees.

Issue:

Were defendant's employees careless and negligent in the way they handled the passenger after he came upon the platform and while he was boarding the train?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate division affirmed the trial court's judgment and verdict. The court held that the acts of defendant's employees, which were found to be negligent by the jury, caused the passenger's bundle that contained explosives to be thrown under the train where they exploded. The court found it was no answer or defense to the employees' negligent acts to say that they were not chargeable with notice that the passenger's bundle contained explosives. The court concluded that plaintiff was entitled to have defendant exercise the highest degree of care required of common carriers.

(See the above procedural note: this decision will be reversed in 1928 by the Court of Appeals of New York).

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