1 F. 382 (S.D.N.Y. 1880), Muser v. American Express Co.

Citation:1 F. 382
Case Date:January 24, 1880
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 382

1 F. 382 (S.D.N.Y. 1880)

MUSER and another



United States Circuit Court, S.D. New York.

January 24, 1880


The plaintiffs delivered to the American Express Company, at Syracuse, N.Y., a trunk with contents of the value of $4,172 for transportation to New York city, taking a receipt, which, among other stipulations, contained those reading as follows: 'This company is not to be held liable for any loss or damage by fire, * * * nor in any event shall this company be held liable or responsible, nor shall any demand be made upon them, beyond the sum of $50, at which sum said property is hereby valued unless the just and true value thereof is stated herein.'

The value of the trunk and contents was not stated in the receipt, and no evidence was given to show that the agent of the defendant knew the value of the property. Through the negligence of the employes of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company, which corporation was employed by the defendant to transport the property in question, the car in which the express company shipped the property for transportation to New York city was thrown from the track, and a fire ensued which destroyed the plaintiff's trunk and contents.

Page 383

The question now is, whether the defendant is relieved from the responsibility by reason of the stipulation in the receipt, or, if not wholly absolved, whether it is liable for more than $50.

It will not be profitable to review the authorities which consider the right of common carriers to limit or modify their common law liabilities by notices or special contracts. It is the settled law in the federal courts that common carriers cannot relieve themselves from liability for negligence either by notice or by special contract, though they may, by contract with the shipper, stipulate for such a reasonable modification of their common law liability as is not inconsistent with their essential duties to the public. They cannot, therefore, exonerate themselves from liability for the negligence of their own agents, but may from the acts or misconduct of persons over whom they have no authority or control, actual or legal. York Co. v. Central R. 3 Wall. 107; R. Co. v. Lockwood, 17 Wall. 357; Bank of Kentucky v. Adams Exp. Co. 93 U.S. 174.

The plaintiff's property was destroyed by the negligence of the railroad company, the agent of...

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