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U.S. Supreme Court

Railroad Company v. Manufacturing Company, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 318 318 (1872)

Railroad Company v. Manufacturing Company

83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 318


1. When goods are delivered to a common carrier to be transported over his railroad to his depot in a place named, and there to be delivered to a second line of conveyance for transportation further on, the common law liability of common carriers remains on the first carrier until he has

Page 83 U. S. 319

delivered the goods for transportation to the next one. His obligation while the goods are in his depot does not become that of a warehouseman.

2. The section in the charter of the Michigan Central Railroad Company providing that the company shall not be responsible for goods on deposit in any of their depots "awaiting delivery" does not include goods in such depots awaiting transportation, but refers to such goods alone as have reached their final destination.

3. Although a common carrier may limit his common law liability by special contract assented to by the consignor of the goods, an unsigned general notice printed on the back of a receipt does not amount to such a contract, though the receipt with such notice on it may have been taken by the consignor without dissent.

4. The Court expresses itself against any further relaxation of the common law liability of common carriers.

In October, 1865, at Jackson, a station on the Michigan Central Railroad, about seventy-five miles west of Detroit, one Bostwick delivered to the agent of the Michigan Central Railroad Company for transportation a quantity of wool consigned to the Mineral Springs Manufacturing Company, at Stafford, Connecticut, and took a receipt for its carriage, on the back of which was a notice that all goods and merchandise are at the risk of the owners while in the warehouses of the company unless the loss or injury to them should happen through the negligence of the agents of the company.

The receipt and notice were as follows:


"JACKSON, October 11, 1865"

"Received from V. M. Bostwick, as consignor, the articles marked, numbered, and weighing as follows:"

"[Wool described.]"

"To be transported over said railroad to the depot, in Detroit, and there to be delivered to _____, agent, or order, upon the payment of the charges thereon, and subject to the rules and regulations established by the company, a part of which notice is given on the back hereof. This receipt is not transferable."


"Freight Agent"

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The notice on the back was thus:

"The company will not be responsible for damages occasioned by delays from storms, accidents, or other causes, . . . and all goods and merchandise will be at the risk of the owners thereof while in the company's warehouses, except such loss or injury as may arise from the negligence of the agents of the company."

Verbal instructions were given by Bostwick that the wool should be sent from Detroit to Buffalo, by lake, in steamboats, which instructions were embodied in a bill of lading sent with the wool. Although there were several lines of transportation from Detroit eastward by which the wool could have been sent, there was only one transportation line propelled by steam on the lakes, and this line was, and had been for some time, unable, in their regular course of business, to receive and transport the freight which had accumulated in large quantities at the railroad depot in Detroit. This accumulation of freight there, and the limited ability of the line of propellers to receive and transport it, were well known to the officers of the road, but neither the consignor, consignee, nor the stationmaster at Jackson were informed on this subject. The wool was carried over the road to the depot in Detroit, and remained there for a period of six days, when it was destroyed by an accidental fire, not the result of any negligence on the company's part. During all the time the wool was in the depot, it was ready to be delivered for further transportation to the carrier upon the route indicated.

In consequence of the loss, the manufacturing company sued the railroad company. The charter of the company, which was pleaded and offered in evidence, contained a section thus:

"The said company may charge and collect a reasonable sum for storage upon all property which shall have been transported by them upon delivery thereof at any of their depots, and which shall have remained at any of their depots more than four days, provided that elsewhere than at their Detroit depot, the consignee shall have been notified if known, either personally or by

Page 83 U. S. 321

notice left at his place of business or residence, or by notice sent by mail, of the receipt of such property at least four days before any storage shall be charged, and at the Detroit depot such notice shall be given twenty-four hours (Sundays excepted) before any storage shall be charged; but such storage may be charged after the expiration of said twenty-four hours upon goods not taken away, provided that in all cases the said company shall be responsible for goods on deposit in any of their depots awaiting delivery, as warehousemen, and not as common carriers."

The controversy, of course, was as to the nature of the bailment when the fire took place. If the railroad company were to be considered as warehousemen at the time the wool was burned, they were not liable in the action, as the fire which caused its destruction was not the result of any negligence on their part. If, on the contrary, their duty as carriers had not ceased at the time of the accident, and there were no circumstances connected with the transaction which lessened the rigor of the rule applicable to that employment, they were responsible, carriers being substantially insurers of the property entrusted to their care.

The court was asked by the railroad company to charge the jury that its liability was the limited one of a warehouseman, importing only ordinary care. The court refused so to charge, and, on the contrary, charged that the railroad company were liable for the wool as common carriers, during its transportation from Jackson to Detroit, and after its arrival there, for such reasonable time as, according to their usual course of business, under the actual circumstances in which they held the wool, would enable them to deliver it to the next carrier in the line, but that the manufacturing company took the risk of the next carrier line not being ready and willing to take said wool, and submitted it to the jury to say whether under all the circumstances of the case in evidence before them, such reasonable time had elapsed before the occurrence of the fire.

The jury, under the instructions of the court, found that the railroad company were chargeable as carriers, and this writ of error was prosecuted to reverse that decision.

Page 83 U. S. 324

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