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U.S. Supreme Court

Railroad Company v. Lockwood, 84 U.S. 17 Wall. 357 357 (1873)

Railroad Company v. Lockwood

84 U.S. (17 Wall.) 357


1. A common carrier cannot lawfully stipulate for exemption from responsibility when such exemption is not just and reasonable in the eye of the law.

2. It is not just and reasonable in the eye of the law for a common carrier to stipulate for exemption from responsibility for the negligence of himself or his servants.

3. These rules apply both to common carriers of goods and common carriers of passengers, and with especial force to the latter.

4. They apply to the case of a drover traveling on a stock train to look after his cattle, and having a free pass for that purpose.

Page 84 U. S. 358

5. Query: whether the same rules would apply to a strictly free passenger.

6. Held, arguendo, that a common carrier does not drop his character as such merely by entering into a contract for limiting his responsibility.

7. That carefulness and fidelity are essential duties of his employment which cannot be abdicated.

8. That these duties are as essential to the public security in his servants as in himself.

9. That a failure to fulfill these duties is "negligence," the distinction between "gross" and "ordinary" negligence being unnecessary.

Lockwood, a drover, was injured whilst traveling on a stock train of the New York Central Railroad Company proceeding from Buffalo to Albany, and brought this suit to recover damages for the injury. He had cattle in the train, and had been required at Buffalo to sign an agreement to attend to the loading, transporting, and unloading of them, and to take all risk of injury to them and of personal injury to himself or to whomsoever went with the cattle, and he received what is called a drover's pass; that is to say, a pass certifying that he had shipped sufficient stock to pass free to Albany, but declaring that the acceptance of the pass was to be considered a waiver of all claims for damages or injuries received on the train. The agreement stated its consideration to be the carrying of the plaintiff's cattle at less than tariff rates. It was shown on the trial that these rates were about three times the ordinary rates charged, and that no drover had cattle carried on those terms, but that all signed similar agreements to that which was signed by the plaintiff, and received similar passes. Evidence was given on the trial tending to show that the injury complained of was sustained in consequence of negligence on the part of the defendants or their servants, but they insisted that they were exempted by the terms of the contract from responsibility for all accidents, including those occurring from negligence, at least the ordinary negligence of their servants, and requested the judge so to charge. This he refused, and charged that if the jury were satisfied that the injury occurred without any negligence on the part of the plaintiff,

Page 84 U. S. 359

and that the negligence of the defendants caused the injury, they must find for the plaintiff, which they did. Judgment being entered accordingly, the railroad company took this writ of error.

It is unnecessary to notice some subordinate points made, as this Court was of opinion that all the questions of fact were fairly left to the jury and that the whole controversy depended on the main question of law stated.

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