Tort Law – Any business field is affected by many aspects that may give rise to wrongful acts which may be done by the business or by a different party to a business entity. Tort law thus comes in to deal with any sort of the civil wrongs which may arise in line of doing business, such as negligence which emanates from other sources than breach of contracts (David Ziemer, n.d.).
One of the significant court cases in this category is the Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928). This case is considered to be among the leading in the American tort law in regard to liability to an unanticipated plaintiff (David Ziemer, n.d.). When a civil wrong occurs, both the individual and business could be financially and legally responsible for the injuries caused as a result of negligence. One of the main factor relied upon when determining negligence include the breach of duty by the defendant which they owe to the plaintiff.
The case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 was handled by the New York Court of Appeals. In the case, Helen Palsgraf was the plaintiff and was waiting at the Long Island Rail Road station. She was on her way to take her kids to the beach. While boarding, two men tried to get on board before the plaintiff, and one dropped a package while being assisted by railroad employees, and it exploded. The explosion caused a huge coin-operated scale located at the platform to hit Palsgraf. She started stammering after the occasion and ultimately sued the railroad (Palsgraf, Punitive Damages, and Preemption, 2012). She argued that the railroad employees acted with negligence when they were aiding the man, and it was neglect that led to her harm.
The plaintiff first got a jury verdict in which she was to be compensated $6,000, but the decision was appealed by the railroad. On Appellate Division, Palsgraf got 3–2 decision and the railroad appealed once more. In the New York Court of Appeals, the railroad won the case as the court overturned the original jury verdict. It was ruled that there existed no negligence as the employees did not have the duty of care to Palsgraf while they were assisting the man to board because the injury was unforeseeable harm from helping an individual with a package.
A dissent was however made stating that the employee negligently extricated the package thus dislodging it without clear knowledge of the contents in it, thus leading to the explosion which broke the scale and harmed plaintiff who was an intending passenger (Teacher, Law, 2013). The dissention held that regardless of the duty to plaintiff, the doer of negligent act should be held to account for the threat caused to other people’s safety and all its immediate consequences.
The ruling may outwardly appear to be unfair because if the employees had been more careful with the package, the harm could not have occurred. However, I agree with the ruling in that it is based on the law of tort, specifically under the liability clause. The law holds that a tort liability only occurs in the event that the defendant breaches a duty of care, which such defendant is owing to the plaintiff, and in turn this act of negligence leads to injury being sued for. This is the concept which was accepted in the American tort law after the ruling made by the New York Court of Appeals (Teacher, Law, 2013). This case shows how the law deals with the proximate cause of the injury in connection to negligence.
David Ziemer. (n.d.). Duty of care remains thorny issue in Wisconsin law. Wisconsin Law Journal (Milwaukee, WI)
Palsgraf, Punitive Damages, and Preemption. (2012). Harvard Law Review, 125(7), 1757–2012
Teacher, Law. (November 2013). Palsgraf v Long Island Railroad – Case Brief
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