Nitro-Glycerine Case

82 U.S. 524



A party cannot be held responsible for injuries resulting from an unavoidable accident whilst engaged in a lawful business. A party alleging negligence must prove that the defendant, by his act or by his omission, has violated some duty incumbent upon him and which has caused the injury complained of by the plaintiff.


An individual paid the defendant to ship a crate of nitroglycerine from New York to San Francisco. Neither the defendant nor any of the defendant's employees knew what the crate contained. Little was known about the properties of nitroglycerine at the time. The crate was leaking when it arrived at its destination. It was taken to the defendant's building, and exploded when a defendant's employee tried to open it. Plaintiff was injured in the blast, and sued defendant to recover damages for the injuries sustained. The district court held that defendant was not liable, and plaintiff appealed.


Was defendant liable to plaintiff for injuries sustained as a result of the blast?




On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed the prior rulings. The Court held that the defendant, being ignorant of the contents of a package received in its regular course of business, was not guilty of negligence in introducing the package into its place of business and handling it in the same manner as other packages of similar outward appearance were usually handled. They were not liable for injuries resulting from an unavoidable accident that occurred while they were engaged in a lawful business and exercising the standard of care required of a person of ordinary prudence and caution.

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