PENNSYLVANIA R. CO. V. HUGHES, 191 U. S. 477 (1903)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Hughes, 191 U.S. 477 (1903)

Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Hughes

No. 66

Argued November 6, 1903

Decided December 7, 1903

191 U.S. 477


A bill of lading was given in New York State for transporting a horse to a point in Pennsylvania, containing a clause limiting the carrier's liability to a stipulated value in consideration of the rate paid, the shipper having been offered a bill of lading without such limitation on payment of a higher rate signed a memorandum accepting the contract at the lower rate. The common law as interpreted by the courts of New York and the federal courts permits a common carrier to limit by contract his liability for his own negligence; as interpreted by the courts of Pennsylvania, he cannot so limit it. On writ of error to review a judgment recovered in a state court of Pennsylvania by the shipper for damages caused by the negligence of the carrier in excess of the limited amount,

Held that the jurisdiction of this Court to review a judgment of a state court under sec. 709, U.S. Revised Statutes, depends upon the assertion of a right, privilege or immunity under the federal Constitution or laws set up and denied in the state courts.

Held that the highest court of a state may administer the common law according

Page 191 U. S. 478

to its own understanding and interpretation thereof, being only amenable to review in this Court where some immunity or privilege created by the federal power has been asserted and denied.

Held that, while Congress under its power may provide for contracts for interstate commerce permitting the carrier to limit its liability to a stipulated valuation, it does not appear that Congress has, up to the present time, sanctioned contracts of this nature; and, in the absence of Congressional legislation on the subject, a state may require common carriers, although in the execution of interstate business, to be liable for the whole loss resulting from their own negligence, a contract to the contrary notwithstanding.

There is no difference in the application of a principle based on the manner in which a state requires a. degree of care and responsibility whether enacted into a statute or resulting from the rules of law enforced in its courts.

The defendants in error brought suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to recover for injuries to a horse shipped by them from Albany in the State of New York to Cynwyd, in the State of Pennsylvania. The shipment was under a bill of lading of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, bearing date of August 10, 1900. It recited the receipt of the horse --

"for transportation from _____ to destination, if on the said carrier's line of railroad, otherwise to the place where said livestock is to be received by the connecting carriers for transportation to or toward destination, and that the same has been received by said carrier for itself and on behalf of connecting carriers, for transportation, subject to the official tariffs, classifications and rules of the said company, and upon the following terms and conditions, which are admitted and accepted by the said shipper as just and reasonable, viz.:"

"That said shipper, or the consignee, is to pay freight thereon to the said carrier at the rate of ___ per ___, which is the lower published tariff rate, upon the express condition that the carrier assumes liability on the said livestock to the extent only of the following agreed valuation, upon which valuation is based the rate charged for the transportation of the said animals, and beyond which valuation neither the said carrier

Page 191 U. S. 479

nor any connecting carrier shall be liable in any event, whether the loss or damage occur through the negligence of the said carrier or connecting carriers, or their employees or otherwise."

"If horses or mules -- not exceeding $100 each."

The through rate of freight was not filled out in the blanks in the shipping receipt or the bill of lading, but was collected by the agent of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at Cynwyd, and it appears was the reduced tariff rate usually charged on such shipments where the limited liability clause above recited is inserted. The shipper signed the bill of lading, which contained the following stipulations:

"Thomas Grady does hereby acknowledge that he had the option of shipping the above-described livestock at a higher rate of freight according to the official tariffs, classifications, and rules of the said carrier and connecting carriers, and thereby receiving the security of the liability of the said carrier and connecting railroad and transportation companies, as common carriers of the said livestock, upon their respective roads and lines, but has voluntarily decided to ship the same under this contract at the reduced rate of freight above first mentioned."

The agreement further provided:

"No carrier shall be liable for loss or damage not occurring on its own road or its portion of the through route, nor after said property is ready for delivery to the next carrier or to consignee. The amount of any loss or damage for which any carrier becomes liable shall be computed at the value of the property at the place and time of shipment under this bill of lading, unless a lower value has been agreed upon or is determined by the classification upon which the rate is based, in either of which events such lower value shall be the maximum price to govern such computation."

Upon the trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $10,000, and judgment was rendered accordingly. The horse was transported in safety to the end of the line of the receiving carrier, and delivered to the defendant company,

Page 191 U. S. 480

and injured while the car in which he was shipped was standing on the track of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in the City of Philadelphia, it being run into by heavily laden cars.

Upon appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the judgment was affirmed. 202 Pa. 222.

Page 191 U. S. 484

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