One of the most significant law of tort cases in the US is the Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928). The case can aptly be described as significant since its effects shaped and established the concepts of the scope of business liability, the relevance of proximate cause and the limits of negligence.
At the heart of the case is Mrs. Helen Palsgraf who was waiting on a Long Island Railway train platform, until two men approached running after a train. As a security officer helped one of the men get on board, the man dropped his package. Since this luggage contained explosives, an explosion of a very powerful scale resulted there-from. This resulted in Palsgraf’s injury. Mrs. Palsgraf entered a personal injury lawsuit against the company, Long Island Railroad. The two main issues that emerged from the case are: the manner of determination of the duty of care; and the person to whom the party owes its duty of due care.
In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled against the favor of Mrs. Palsgraf. The court maintained that there was no direct relationship between the guard’s action (of pulling the second passenger on board) and Palsgraf’s injury. The crux of the matter is that there has to be a direct nexus between the guard’s action and Mrs. Palsgraf’s injury, in order for liability to be cited. The Senior Judge Benjamin Cardozo, while writing for the three-judge bench, maintained that the guard in no way was aware of the presence of the explosion in the package. Therefore, by shoving the passenger inside, he was not aware that an explosion would ensue.
Cardozo continued that even the most cautious mind could not guess the presence of danger in the package. Moreover, there was no way the soldier’s action of pushing the passenger into the train directly affected Mrs. Palsgraf.