Group B2, page 1
Econ 495, 1:30pm
Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company Opinion
In this case, Palsgraf, the plaintiff, was standing on the Long Island Railroad Company’s railroad platform, ready to head to RockawayBeach. As another train was pulling away, two men attempted to board. Although the first man made it on without a problem, the second appeared as if about to fall. When the defendant’s guard gave the man a push to help the passenger on, the guard inadvertently dislodged a package the man was carrying, which happened to contain fireworks wrapped in newspaper. Upon falling to the ground near the tracks, the fireworks exploded, destroying some scales at the other end of the platform, and causing injuries to the plaintiff, for which she is suing. Upon review of the case, this court finds for the plaintiff in the amount of $600 for reasons to be explained below.
In order to determine whether a tort is appropriate, we must break the case in question down to ensure the necessary requirements for such a claim have been met. First, we must determine whether there is sufficient causation to claim damages. In applying the “but for” test, we could say that, “But for the guard had not allowed the passenger to jump on the moving train, and had not dislodged the man’s package from his arms, the fireworks would not have fallen, thereby causing the injuries to the defendant.” However, we could also argue that, “But for the man had not attempted to board a moving train, regardless of whether there were guards there or not, he would not have dropped his package, subsequently causing injuries to the plaintiff.” Here, although it appears that there was some level of negligence on the part of the defendant for not having sufficient guards on duty, and also for not preventing the passenger from jumping on the moving car, there is also a great deal of observable negligence on the part of the passenger for not realizing that attempting to board a moving train could potentially cause harm, both to himself, and to others nearby. In this case, the passenger had the “last clear chance” to decide not to board the train, but decided to do so anyway, thereby causing the defendant’s guard to feel obligated to help him on so as to make sure the man did not injure himself in the process.
In examining proximate cause for the harm to the plaintiff, although the guard pushing the passenger on board did immediately cause the package of fireworks to fall to the ground and explode, the more pertinent cause for the injuries is the fact that the man decided to board a moving train. It can be argued that the guard’s actions have a “direct connection” to the explosion and subsequent injuries, and are “without too many intervening causes”. However, the guard’s actions were not the “substantial factor” in the event. Instead, the man attempting to board the moving train serves as the catalyst for the ordeal. The passenger had the last clear chance to avoid the situation. Although the guard had the options of either helping the man on board or pulling him off the train, the guard exercised the judgment of any ordinary, pertinent person in trying to help the man on, instead of attempting to pull him off and risk injury to himself and the passenger from falling close to the train.
Next, we consider whether the issue was foreseeable on the part of the defendant. It has been established in the case that it is common practice for passengers to attempt boarding moving trains as they are slowly leaving the station. Although this may not be the smartest thing for passengers to do, and surely accidents happen on occasion where those attempting to board are injured, had so many previous cases resulted in litigation against the various railroad companies, they surely would have invested in more guards who would prevent this occurrence from taking place. Since it has been, and still is, common practice for these passengers to try boarding while the train is leaving, the guard was not negligent in his actions. The defendant, furthermore, was acting as any ordinary railroad company at the time would have. Although the day in question was arguably an extraordinary one with so many people heading to RockawayBeach, there was no need to hire additional guards for crowd control or to keep passengers from attempting to board moving trains.
In purchasing a ticket on this particular day, the passengers had knowledge that many others would likely be heading to the same destination, thereby causing a certain degree of crowding and elevated risk of injury. This risk was accepted upon purchasing the ticket and moving to the railroad platform. It would be very costly for the defendant to hire more guards for a single particular day, and may require paying overtime to currently employed staff who do not ordinarily work on such days, or to train numerous new members of the staff for such an occasion. No mention of any prior similar case has appeared in the case testimony. And, since this is likely not the first time such a number of passengers have been on their way to RockawayBeach without any previous problems arising, the defendant had no reason to believe that something of this magnitude would occur.
The plaintiff’s claims against the defendant seem frivolous for a few reasons. Although there undoubtedly was a certain degree of physical injury caused to the plaintiff during the incident in question, most testimony in the case was regarding supposed psychological injury that caused the plaintiff to miss time working. Stuttering is cited as the main symptom for this affliction. However, the case testimony clearly established that the stuttering would sometimes fade, regardless of whether the plaintiff was using her prescribed medications or not. Also, a third party doctor with experience in the neurological field testified that the thought of the ongoing litigation was the main reason that the plaintiff’s stuttering and other mental problems had not yet vanished. In addition, the plaintiff had recently moved to a new, more expensive house, even after bringing this litigation for the reason of covering the costs of her medical bills, of which she claims she is unable to pay. In this respect, this case seems like an underhanded way for the plaintiff to gain some extra cash for injuries that did not actually occur, especially indicated in the initial claim for damages in the amount of $50,000 for an overall medical bill not exceeding $800.
In making a ruling in this case, it is extremely important to contemplate the incentive effects for similar circumstances in the future. For one, it seems very inappropriate to make the defendant strictly liable for the damages in this case. In doing so, future potential victims would have no incentive to take precautions of their own. This could cause many more instances of injuries at railroad stations nationwide. Furthermore, assigning no liability to the defendant gives an indication that railroad stations do not need to look out for the safety of their clients. These are both inefficient outcomes for the overall good of the public. Instead, it may be best, in this situation, to determine exactly what percentage of fault lies between both parties and assign liability and damages accordingly.
Since it was, and still is at the time of the case, common practice for passengers to attempt boarding a moving train, the guard was put in a difficult position when he saw the passenger hanging off the side of the train about to fall. However, it can be argued that slightly more stringent security measures may deter a certain percentage of people from attempting such a potentially dangerous feat. As a result, only 20% of the fault in this case lies with the defendant. The majority, 80%, of the fault, lies with the plaintiff since she assumed the risk of unforeseen events happening whilst knowingly traveling with a rather large number of people to the same destination. Any time a crowd gathers, there is higher probability of injury or other strange happenings.
As per the damages, $50,000 appears to be a gross over-estimation of the value of the unpaid doctor bills, plus any pain a suffering that may have been caused by the incident. A more reasonable estimation of pain and suffering would bring the grand total to something like $3,000. And when applying the respective percentage of fault on the part of the plaintiff, a total of $600 should be awarded. This court, therefore, rules for the plaintiff in the amount of $600.