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Law School Case Brief

Thomas v. Winchester - 6 N.Y. 397 (1852)

Rule:

There is a distinction recognized between an act of negligence imminently dangerous to the lives of others, and one that is not so. In the former case, the party guilty of the negligence is liable to the party injured, whether there be a contract between them or not; in the latter, the negligent party is liable only to the party with whom he contracted, and on the ground that negligence is a breach of the contract.

Facts:

One consumer was prescribed extract of dandelion for her illness. The producer had mislabeled jars of its vegetable extracts, switching the labels for dandelion and belladonna. The consumer inadvertently consumed belladonna and became very ill. The consumers sought and obtained a negligence verdict and an award of damages in their action against the producer. The producer sought review.

Issue:

Was the producer of the drug liable for negligence although he did not have any contract or privity with the injured party?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

On appeal the court affirmed, holding that the producer was a dealer in poisonous drugs. The druggist-seller was his agent in preparing them for market. The court found that death or great bodily harm of some person was the natural and almost inevitable consequence of the sale of belladonna by means of the false label. Although the producer could not be answerable criminally for the negligence of his assistant, there could be no doubt of his liability in a civil action, in which the act of the assistant was to be regarded as the act of the principal. In addition, the jury was correctly charged as to the negligence, or its lack, on the part of the producer's assistant and the druggist.

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