WESTERN UNION TEL. CO. V. ESTEVE BROS. & CO., 256 U. S. 566 (1921)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Western Union Tel. Co. v. Esteve Bros. & Co., 256 U.S. 566 (1921)

Western Union Telegraph Company v. Esteve Brothers & Company

No. 491

Argued April 12, 13, 1921

Decided June 1, 1921

256 U.S. 566


A company engaged in transmitting telegraphic messages in this country and by cable between here and France established a tariff offering a lower rate for unrepeated and a higher rate for repeated messages, and limiting its liability for mistake in transmitting unrepeated messages to the tolls accruing to it therefrom, and filed the tariff with the Interstate Commerce Commission under the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended June 18, 1910, c. 309, § 7, 36 Stat. 539; an unrepeated message sent by plaintiffs from Spain passed over other line to Havre, where it was received by the company

Page 256 U. S. 567

and sent to New Orleans, an error being introduced on the land lines in this country which caused the plaintiffs heavy loss. The provision limiting liability was not expressed on the blank used in sending, nor did the senders know of its adoption and filing.


1. Whatever the legal incidents of the transmission over the foreign lines, the company, in carrying the message over its own lines from Havre, was governed by the Interstate Commerce Act, as amended. P. 256 U. S. 570.

2. The senders of the message were bound as a matter of law by the provision limiting liability, without regard to their knowledge or assent, because it was a part of a lawfully established rate which could not be departed from without creating an undue preference or advantage in violation of § 3 of the statute. P. 256 U. S. 570. Boston & Maine Railroad v. Hooker, 233 U. S. 97; Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio Ry. Co. v. Woodbury, 254 U. S. 357.

3. Quaere whether the rule that carriers of goods, in order to limit liability for negligence, must offer an alternative rate attended by full liability (Union Pacific R. Co. v. Burke, 255 U. S. 317), applies to telegraph and cable companies? P. 256 U. S. 574.

4. Where a cable company offered a lower rate, with limited liability, for unrepeated messages, and a higher rate for repeated messages, with a higher but still limited liability, held, that the senders of an unrepeated message who paid the lower rate could not escape its attendant limitation upon the ground that liability under the higher was also limited, since the latter limitation, if invalid, would not bind those who used the higher rate, and the question of its validity was not material in the case. P. 256 U. S. 575.

268 F. 22 reversed.

Certiorari to review a judgment of the circuit court of appeals affirming a judgment rendered against the present petitioner, by the district court, in an action for damages resulting from a mistake in a telegram. The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 256 U. S. 568

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