Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co.

248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928)



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. This does not mean, of course, that one who launches a destructive force is always relieved of liability if the force, though known to be destructive, pursues an unexpected path. It is not necessary that a 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 ordinarily prudent eye. Some acts, such as shooting, are so imminently dangerous to any one who may come within reach of the missile, however unexpectedly, as to impose a duty of prevision not far from that of an insurer. Even today, and much oftener in earlier stages of the law, one acts sometimes at one's peril. Under this head, it may be, fall certain cases of what is known as transferred intent, an act willfully dangerous to A resulting by misadventure in injury to B. These cases aside, wrong is defined in terms of the natural or probable, at least when unintentional. The range of reasonable apprehension is at times a question for the court, and at times, if varying inferences are possible, a question for the jury.


Palsgraf was standing on the East New York Long Island Rail Road station platform after buying a ticket. A train stopped at the station, and another man ran forward to catch it. When he attempted to board the train in haste, he dropped a package containing fireworks. As a result, Palsgraf was injured from the subsequent explosion and sought to hold the railroad liable for negligence. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the Palsgraf. The appellate court affirmed, and the railroad appealed.


Can a Defendant be held liable for negligence for actions that cannot be reasonably foreseen?




The court held that under the foreseeability test, it was not reasonable to hold that the railroad's alleged negligence was the cause of the passenger's injuries. It concluded that a duty of care must be ascertained from the risk that can be reasonably foreseen. Long Island Railroad Company could not have reasonably foreseen that the package contained explosives and posed a threat to anyone. It was the explosion that was the proximate cause of the injury, and the railroad could not have reasonably expected such a disaster.

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