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Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R.

Citation. 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928)
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Brief Fact Summary.

The plaintiff was waiting on the platform for her train when a man carrying a package rushed to catch the train pulling out of the station. He attempted to jump into the train car, with assistance from a guard on the platform and a guard in the car, but he dropped his package onto the tracks. The package contained fireworks, and it exploded upon impact, causing scales on the other end of the platform to fall on and injure the plaintiff.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A negligent party’s duty of care to others is limited to a foreseeable risk of physical harm.


The plaintiff was standing on the platform of the defendant’s railroad after purchasing a train ticket to Rockaway Beach. A train bound for a different location stopped at the station, and two men ran to catch it. One reached the train car without issue, though the train was already moving, but the other, who was carrying a package, jumped aboard the moving car. A guard in the car, who had held the door open for the jumping passenger, tried to pull him in while another guard, still on the platform, pushed him into the car from behind. This caused the passenger to drop the small package wrapped in newspaper that he was carrying onto the tracks. The package contained fireworks, and they exploded upon impact with the ground. The explosion caused scales at the other end of the platform, many feet away, to dislodge and fall onto the plaintiff, causing her injuries.


Is the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s injuries?


No. The injury was too far removed from the defendant’s negligent act for the defendant to owe the plaintiff a duty of care. The appellate court ruling is reversed.


Justice Andrews

Judge Andrews believes that this is an issue of proximate cause, not an issue of duty of care. Negligence is not defined by the consequences of the act—one can be negligent without his conduct ever resulting in injury to another. With that in mind, any consequences resulting from that negligent conduct should fall under the responsibility of the negligent actor, regardless of specific foreseeability. The idea that a specific duty must be owed to the plaintiff in order to allow recovery is far too narrow, as we pull duty out of the abstract all the time. The defendant’s negligence here was clearly the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury, and so the the plaintiff should have the ability to recover.


While the conduct of the guards employed by the defendant may have been negligent to the passenger carrying the package, it was not negligent in relation to the plaintiff standing many feet away. There was no notice that the package contained explosive fireworks that had the potential to injure someone all the way on the other side of the platform. Without open knowledge of the risk at issue, no duty of care existed between the plaintiff and the guards, as the guards did not violate any protected interest of the plaintiff. We encounter a certain amount of risk every time we leave our homes, but that does not mean that negligence exists in the abstract (“in the air”) without a specific duty of care. Nothing in this situation would have suggested to the cautious or reasonable mind that a risk to the bodily security of the plaintiff was assumed when the guards attempted to assist the passenger. The consequences following an act must first be rooted in a specific wrong for the defendant to be held liable.

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