NORTHERN PACIFIC RY. CO. V. ADAMS, 192 U. S. 440 (1904)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Northern Pacific Ry. Co. v. Adams, 192 U.S. 440 (1904)

Northern Pacific Railway Company v. Adams

No. 143

Argued January 25-26, 1904

Decided February 23, 1904

192 U.S. 440


When a railroad company gives gratuitously, and a passenger accepts, a pass, the former waives its rights as a common carrier to exact compensation, and if the pass contains a condition to that effect, the latter assumes the risks of ordinary negligence of the company's employees; the arrangement is one which the parties may make, and no public policy is violated thereby. And if the passenger is injured or killed while riding on such a pass gratuitously given, which he has accepted with knowledge of the conditions therein, the company is not liable therefor either to him or to his heirs, in the absence of willful or wanton negligence.

A railroad company is not under two measures of liability -- one to the passenger and the other to his heirs. The latter claim under him, and can recover only in case he could have recovered had he been injured only, and not killed.

A statute of Idaho reads as follows:

"When the death of a person, not being a minor, is caused

Page 192 U. S. 441

by the wrongful act or neglect of another, his heirs or personal representatives damages against the person causing the death; or, if such person be employed by another person who is responsible for his conduct, then also against such other person. In every action under this and the preceding section, such damages may be given as, under all the circumstances of the case, may be just."

Revised Statutes of Idaho, § 4100.

Jay H. Adams resided in Spokane, Washington. He was a lawyer and the attorney of several railway companies, though not in the employ of petitioner. He was a frequent traveler on petitioner's and other railways. On November 13, 1898, he, with a friend, started on one of petitioner's trains from Hope, Idaho, to Spokane. The train consisted of an engine and eight cars, those behind the express car being in the following order: smoking car, day coach, tourist sleeper, dining car, Pullman sleeper. All were vestibuled except the tourist sleeper immediately in front of the dining car. It had open platforms, as an ordinary passenger coach. Shortly after leaving Hope, Mr. Adams, then in the smoking car, went back to the dining car for cigars. To reach the dining car, he passed through the day coach and the tourist sleeper. After buying cigars, he left the dining car and went forward. This was the last seen of him alive. His body was found the next day opposite a curve in the railroad track about six miles west of Hope. There was no direct testimony as to how he got off the train, whether by an accidental stumble, or by being thrown therefrom through the lurching of the train, which was going at a high rate of speed. The road from Hope to the place where the body was found is in Idaho. He was riding on a free pass containing these provisions:


"This free ticket is not transferable, and, if presented by another person than the individual named thereon, or if any alteration, addition, or erasure is made upon it, it is forfeited, and the conductor will take it up and collect full fare. "

Page 192 U. S. 442

"The person accepting this free ticket agrees that the Northern Pacific Railway Company shall not be liable, under any circumstances, whether of negligence of agents or otherwise, for any injury to the person, or for any loss or damage to the property, of the passenger using the same."

"I accept the above conditions."

"Jay H. Adams"

"This pass will not be honored unless signed in ink by the person for whom issued."

This action was brought by the plaintiffs, the widow and son of the deceased, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Washington. Verdict and judgment were in their favor for $14,000, which were sustained by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 116 F.3d 4, and thereupon the case was brought here on a writ of certiorari. 187 U.S. 643.

Page 192 U. S. 448

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