January 27, 2022

Case Brief: Hellen Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.

case brief

CASE CITATION: 248 N.Y. 339 (N.Y. 1928)


BENCH: Benjamin Cardozo, W. Pound, Irving Lehman, Henry Kellog, William S. Andrews, Frederick Crane and John F. O’Brein

DECIDED ON: 19th of may, 1928


Sunday, august 24, 1924 was the day when the incident happened. It was a warm and bright summer day of Brooklyn, Hellen Palsgraf a 40 year old janitor as well as housekeeper along with 2 of her daughters named Elizabeth and Lillian aged 15 and 12 respectively were waiting to board a train to Rockaway Beach. They were waiting for the train to come at the East New York station of the LIRR on Atlantic view in Brooklyn and suddenly a train pulled in which wasn’t of theirs.

Suddenly two men came running to board the train which was on the verge of leaving the station, one of them made it to the train as the gates of the train were still open without any causation of incident but the other one had a neck blocking task of leaping abroad but anyhow he made it to inside by help of the station guard pushing hi from behind and from another member of the train’s crew but in the process of doing so he accidentally dropped the package he was carrying. And for the worst cause in it the package contained fireworks which dropped and exploded, either due to the force of explosion or due to panicking of the travellers a rush resulted in toppling of the coin operated scale on Hellen Palsgraf, although no one was seriously injured to be taken to hospital but Hellen Palsgraf was listed as injured. Contemporary records and observers at preliminary depicted the man as Italian in appearance, and there was theory that the bundle was being taken for use at an Italian-American festival or something to that affect; no extraordinary exertion was made to distinguish the proprietor.

Palsgraf’s physical issue was recorded in The New York Times as stun; she additionally endured wounding. The separation between Helen Palsgraf and the blast was never clarified in the preliminary transcript, or in the assessments of the appointed authorities who controlled working on this issue, yet the good ways from the blast to the scale was depicted in the Times as “in excess of ten feet away” (3 meters). A few days after the episode, she built up an awful stammer, and her PCP affirmed at preliminary that it was because of the injury of the occasions at East New York station. She had not recuperated from the stammer when the case came to court.


Whether a defendant has to be held liable for an injury caused to the plaintiff which is not foreseeable?


Palsgraf acquired suit against the railroad the Supreme Court of New York, Kings County, a preliminary level court, in Brooklyn on October 2, 1924. The request was served the next month, and the litigant documented its answer on December 3. The case was heard on May 24 and 25, 1927, with Justice Burt Jay Humphrey presiding.Humphrey had served for more than twenty years on the district court in Queens before surprisingly being selected for political decision to the Supreme Court in 1925; he was noted for his obliging and agreeable way. Manhattan legal advisors attempted the Brooklyn case: Matthew W. Wood, who worked from 233 Broadway (the Woolworth Building) spoke to Palsgraf, while Joseph F. Keany, whose office was at Pennsylvania Station, was for the railroad, alongside William McNamara.

Wood was an accomplished independent professional with two degrees from Ivy League schools; Keany had headed the LIRR’s lawful office for a long time—McNamara, who attempted the case, was one of the division’s lesser legal advisors, who had progressed from agent to direct after graduation from graduate school. At preliminary, Palsgraf affirmed that she had been hit in the side by the scale, and had been treated at the scene, and afterward took a cab home. She vouched for trembling then for a few days, and afterward the stammering began. Her wellbeing constrained her to surrender her work in mid-1926. Wood called Herbert Gerhardt, an etcher, who had seen the man with the bundle hustle towards the train, and whose spouse had been hit in the stomach in the man’s surge. He affirmed that the scale had been “blown right to pieces”.

On the second day of the preliminary, Wood called Dr. Karl A. Parshall, Palsgraf’s doctor. He affirmed that he had treated Palsgraf infrequently for minor infirmities before the occurrence at East New York, however on the day after discovered her shaken and wounded. He offered it as his input that Palsgraf’s ills were brought about by the mishap. Effortlessness Gerhardt, Herbert’s significant other, was the following observer. She vouched for being hit by one of “the two youthful Italian colleagues” who were hustling to make the train, and how one made it independent and the other just with the assistance of two LIRR workers. She didn’t have anything to state about the scale or Palsgraf, having seen not one or the other. Elizabeth and Lillian Palsgraf, the senior and more youthful little girl of the offended party, were beside affirm and talked about what they had seen.

Wood showed his lone outstanding observer was a nervous system specialist, a specialist witness, and McNamara for the LIRR moved to excuse the case on the ground that Palsgraf had neglected to introduce proof of carelessness, yet Justice Humphrey denied it. The nervous system specialist, Graeme M. Hammond of Manhattan, had analysed Palsgraf two days prior, watching her stammering, talking just with trouble. She let him know of sorrow and cerebral pains. He determined her to have horrendous agitation, for which the blast was a conceivable reason, and said the panic was probably going to proceed as long as the case did, for just once it was settled were the concerns associated with it liable to disappear.

Wood trusted the jury to decide wisely for the benefit of the offended party; McNamara offered no proof yet again moved to excuse, which Humphrey denied. The appointed authority told the all-male jury that if the LIRR workers “excluded to do the things which reasonable and cautious trainmen accomplish for the security of the individuals who are boarding their trains, just as the wellbeing of the individuals who are remaining upon the stage sitting tight for different trains, and that the disappointment brought about the offended party’s physical issue, at that point the litigant would be obligated.” The jury was out for two hours and 35 minutes, including the lunch break, and they granted Palsgraf $6,000 ($88,300 today). In accordance with rule, she likewise recouped expenses of $142, a sum added to the decision. A movement for another preliminary was denied on May 27, 1927 by Justice Humphrey, who didn’t give a composed supposition, and a judgment was entered on the decision on May 31, from which the LIRR advanced on June 14.Once Palsgraf had gotten her jury decision, the Gerhardts additionally sued the railroad, with Wood as their advice.

William H. Manz, in his article on the realities in Palsgraf, proposed that neither one of the sides invested a lot of energy planning for preliminary. Wood didn’t contact his reality witnesses, the Gerhardts, until in a matter of seconds before the preliminary, and Palsgraf was analyzed by Dr. Hammond the day preceding the preliminary began. McNamara, one of the most junior individuals from the LIRR’s lawful group, called no observers, and Manz recommended the whole resistance procedure was to get the appointed authority to excuse the case. In his later book, Judge Richard Posner demonstrated that the much-sued LIRR didn’t present a superior case than the first-run through offended party: “it put on a scratch and dent section barrier”.

The LIRR’s intrigue took the case to the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, for the Second Department, the state’s middle interests court. In its briefs before the Appellate Division, the LIRR contended that the decision had been in opposition to the law and the proof. It focused on that it had no premonition that the bundle was perilous, and that no law expected it to look through the substance of traveler baggage. The short expressed that given this, there was no carelessness in helping a man make a train, and regardless of whether there was, that carelessness was not the proximate reason for Palsgraf’s wounds. Wood, for Palsgraf, contended that the jury decision discovering carelessness was upheld by undisputed realities, and ought not be addressed by the redrafting courts. The offended party’s concise likewise recommended that the disappointment of the railroad to call as witnesses the representatives who had helped the man ought to choose any surmising of carelessness against it. Wood regarded the trainmen blameworthy of a “neglect of obligation”, unfortunate behaviour that was the proximate reason for Palsgraf’s wounds.

The legal counsellors contended the case before the Appellate Division in Brooklyn on October 21, 1927. On December 9, the Appellate Division attested the preliminary court’s judgment, 3–2. Albert H. F. Seeger composed the lion’s share supposition for the five judges hearing the case, and was joined by Justices William F. Hagarty and William B. Carswell. Seeger had been conceived in Stuttgart and went to the United States as a kid; he had been chosen for the Supreme Court in 1917 and was raised to the Appellate Division by Governor Al Smith in 1926.

Matured 68 at the hour of Palsgraf, he could serve just two additional prior years compulsory retirement. Equity Seeger decided that the finding of carelessness by the jury was upheld by the proof, and estimated that the jury may have discovered that helping a traveler board a moving train was a careless demonstration. He composed that while the arrangement of realities may be novel, the case was the same on a fundamental level as notable court choices on causation, for example, the Squib case, in which a touchy (a squib) was lit and tossed, at that point was heaved away over and again by individuals not having any desire to be harmed until it detonated close to the offended party, harming him; his suit against the man who had gotten the squib under way was maintained. The greater part additionally centred around the high level of obligation of care that the LIRR owed to Palsgraf, one of its customers.

Managing Justice Edward Lazansky (joined by Justice J. Addison Young) composed a contradiction. Lazansky, the child of Czech migrants, had been chosen New York Secretary of State as a Democrat in 1910. Chosen for the Supreme Court in 1917, he had been assigned managing equity of the Second Department by Governor Smith prior in 1927. Lazansky didn’t scrutinise the jury finding of carelessness, however felt that the workers’ direct was not the proximate reason for Palsgraf’s wounds, since the man’s lead in bringing a bundle that may detonate to a packed traveler station was an autonomous demonstration of carelessness, rendering the disregard by the railroad excessively remote in causation for there to be risk.


The chief judge of the court of Appeals New York Benjamin N. Cardozo wrote for a 4-3 majority in this following case reversing the orders of the appellate judgment directing the case to be decided for defendant, the conduct of the defendant’s guard, if a wrong in it’s relation to the holder of the package, was not a wrong in relation the plaintiff standing farther in some distance. He was of the opinion that proof of the negligence in he air so to speak will not do as well he defended himself by stating “a different conclusion could have drifted swiftly to rather many contradictions”Cardozo presented theoretical circumstances: if a railroad monitor lurches over a heap of papers, and there are explosives inside, will there be risk to a harmed traveler at the opposite finish of the stage? Will the outcome be extraordinary if the item containing the explosives is a valise?

On the off chance that there was carelessness that day, Cardozo contended, it was just carelessness that brought about the fall and pulverisation of the bundle, and there was no off-base done by the railroad to Palsgraf for individual injury, “the assorted variety of occurrences stresses the worthlessness of the push to construct the offended party’s privilege upon the premise of a wrong to somebody else.”The boss adjudicator trained, “The hazard sensibly to be seen characterises the obligation to be obeyed”.Cardozo didn’t vindicate the litigant who intentionally releases a dangerous power, for example, by firing a firearm, on the grounds that the shot takes a startling way. This isn’t such a case, Cardozo held: regardless of whether the railroad watch had tossed down the bundle deliberately, without knowing the substance he couldn’t purposely hazard mischief to Palsgraf, and would not be obligated. Carelessness can’t force obligation where a purposeful demonstration would not.

Carelessness, Cardozo stressed, gets from human relations, not in theory. Carelessness that does nobody hurt isn’t a tort. It isn’t sufficient, he found, to demonstrate carelessness by the respondent and harm to the offended party; there must be a rupture of obligation owed to the offended party by the litigant. He followed the historical backdrop of the law of carelessness, an idea not known in medieval occasions, and noticed that it advanced as a branch of the law of trespass, and one couldn’t sue for trespass to another. Had the railroad been careless towards Palsgraf, it may have been at risk, yet “the results to be followed should initially be established in a wrong”, and there was no lawful wrong done by the railroad to Palsgraf. Consequently, the lower courts were wrong, and should be turned around, and the case excused, with Palsgraf to hold up under the expenses of suit.

Then again, the disagreeing assessment, given by Judge Andrews, fights that the railroad representative’s activities, for example helping the man conveying firecrackers board the train, legitimately made the bundle fall and, subsequently, cause the damage to the offended party. Obligation for carelessness emerges when one’s direct or exclusion nonsensically hurts the privileges of others or irrationally neglects to shield from the subsequent threats brought about by the improper lead. Andrews places that two components must be met: (1) There was a demonstration or exclusion, and (2) there was a right. As he would like to think, it is erroneous to state that one just has an obligation of sensible consideration to shield certain people from the outcomes of an unlawful/improper act.

Rather, one has both the legitimate obligation to ensure people in the “zone of peril” from unsafe acts, and the obligation to secure society all in all. Right now, harmed party spoke to an individual from the general population hurt by the outcome of a conceivably careless demonstration of the litigant’s worker. To demonstrate that the litigant is at risk for carelessness to the offended party, proximate reason must be set up. Here, there was a characteristic and persistent arrangement of occasions prompting the offended party’s physical issue. There was likewise practically zero remoteness in time or space between the demonstration and injury that could present the chance of an interceding power that could have caused the offended party’s physical issue. Thusly, as an issue of law, Andrews can’t state that the offended party’s wounds were not the proximate outcome of the representative’s careless lead and, in this manner, the judgment ought to be attested for the offended party.


The Court of Appeals of New York reversed all the previous orders of Trail Cart and appellate court judgement in favour of the plaintiff and thereby holding declaration in favour of the defendants.


Palsgraf case in subsequent years become one of the landmark cases to be introspected by setting of principles of negligence and foreseeability of any misshaping due to some work or negligence in certain duty of care which in course of time became a relevant principle of law to be followed of. Palsgraf was before long embraced by some state courts, on occasion in various settings: Though some state courts outside New York endorsed it, others didn’t, now and then inclination that predictability was an issue for the jury to consider. As indicated by Posner, writing in 1990, Cardozo’s holding that there is no risk to an offended party who couldn’t have been anticipated has been trailed by various states other than New York, yet it remains the minority rule. Most states keep on obfuscating alongside the undefined ‘proximate reason’ approach, which accentuates the vicinity in existence of the litigant’s thoughtless demonstration to the offended party’s physical issue; that was the methodology taken by Judge Andrews’ contradiction in Palsgraf.

The overwhelming majority of state courts accept that there must be a duty of care for there to be liability though, have stated that they have adopted Andrews’ approach, and impose liability when there was a duty to any person, whether or not that person is the plaintiff.The gatekeepers’ wronging him happened to hurt Mrs. Palsgraf. In any case, that doesn’t mean they wronged Mrs. Palsgraf. What’s more, on the off chance that they didn’t off-base her, she can’t possibly win in a tort activity. Cardozo isn’t feeling that in the event that he were on the jury, he wouldn’t discover the railroad at risk. Cardozo has been commended for his style of writing in Palsgraf. Posner noticed that in the realities of the case Cardozo saw launched the essential standards of carelessness law and had the option to express them in exposition of striking freshness, lucidity, and clarity, in a supposition for the most part written in short sentences and lacking commentaries or square statements.

From its early days, there has been criticism of Palsgraf, and more recently, of Cardozo for authoring it. Cardozo was also criticised by some eminent writers in their analysis of the case in detailing for not taking plaintiff’s circumstances into account before delivering of the final judgement, some of them even were severely planned to attack the personal life of Cardozo by stating that he was a lifelong bachelor that’s he might not have the experience of carrying child’s with alongside while travelling and how much is the contentious amount of risk involved in this and alongside also some even targeted him of neglecting plaintiff as the selection of plaintiff as wood’s for their counselling purpose as per the high contingent price of him.

Even some authors also targeted upon Himont the grounds of feminism and not being empathetic before delivering judgement about the crisis going on by the plaintiff on managing the household chores and taking care of the children and the price she has to bear with after that. But in present day neither Cardozo nor Andrews has won on the question of how duty of care is formulated with courts applying policy analyses. Although a clear majority of jurisdictions state that duty is the proper home for plaintiff-foreseeability, Cardozo’s vision of foreseeability as a categorical determination has not been widely adopted,Andrews may have discovered an indirect access to triumph. Apparently the most significant outcome of the Palsgraf choice, the goals of the appointed authority/jury question, seems to lean toward Andrews. A greater part of courts want to leave predictability—even as a piece of obligation—to the jury.

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Author Details: Adarsh Khuntia (Birla Global University)

The views of the author are personal only. (if any)

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