Parrot v. Wells Fargo & Co. (Nitro-Glycerine Case)

82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 524 (1872)



No one is responsible for injuries resulting from unavoidable accident whilst engaged in a lawful business. A party charging negligence as a ground of action must prove it. He must show that the defendant, by his act or by his omission, has violated some duty incumbent upon him, which has caused the injury complained of. The cases between passengers and carriers for injuries stand upon a different footing. The contract of the carrier being to carry safely, the proof of the injury usually establishes a prima facie case, which the carrier must overcome. His contract is shown, prima facie at least, to have been violated by the injury. Outside of these cases, in which a positive obligation is cast upon the carrier to perform safely a special service, the presumption is that the party has exercised such care as men of ordinary prudence and caution would exercise under similar circumstances, and if he has not, the plaintiff must prove it.


Plaintiff landlord's buildings were damaged by a package that exploded. Defendant tenants did not know the contents of the package or have any reason to suspect its dangerous character. The trial court held that the tenants were not liable for injuries to that portion of the buildings not covered by their lease. On appeal, the United States Supreme Court affirmed.


Can defendant's be held liable for negligence?




The tenants, as carriers, had no duty to require knowledge of the contents of the package unless there were good grounds for believing that the package contained something dangerous. The Court held that the tenants, being ignorant of the contents of the package received in their regular course of business, were not guilty of negligence in introducing the package into their 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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