100 U.S. 24 (1879), New York Cent. & H.r.r. Co. v. Fraloff

Citation:100 U.S. 24, 25 L.Ed. 531
Case Date:November 03, 1879
Court:United States Supreme Court

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100 U.S. 24 (1879)

25 L.Ed. 531




United States Supreme Court.

November 03, 1879

ERROR to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the court.


Mr. Elliott F. Shepard for the plaintiff in error.

Mr. James W. Gerard, contra.

1. It is competent for general carriers of passengers, by specific regulations, distinctly brought to the knowledge of the passenger, which are reasonable, and not inconsistent with a statute or their duties to the public, to protect themselves against liability as insurers of his baggage which exceeds a fixed amount in value, except upon additional compensation proportioned to the risk.

2. As a condition precedent to a contract for its transportation, they may require information from him as to its value, and demand extra compensation for any excess beyond that which he may reasonably demand to be transported as baggage under the contract to carry the person.

3. They may be discharged from liability for its full value, if he, by any device or artifice, evades inquiry as to such value, whereby a responsibility is imposed upon them beyond what they are bound to assume in consideration of the ordinary fare charged for the transportation of the person.

4. In the absence of legislation, or of special regulations by the carriers, or of conduct by him misleading them as to such value, his failure to disclose it, when no inquiry is made of him, is not, in itself, a fraud upon them.

5. To the extent that articles taken by him for his personal use when travelling exceed in quantity and value such as are ordinarily or usually taken by passengers of like station and pursuing like journeys, they are not baggage for which the carriers are, by general law, responsible as insurers.

6. Whether he has taken such an excess of baggage is a question not of law for the sole or the final determination of the court, but of fact for the jury, under proper guidance as to the law of the case. Their determination of it upon the evidence--no error of law appearing--is not subject to re-examination here.

7. Sect. 4281, Rev. Stat., has no reference to the liability of carriers by land for the baggage of passengers.


MR. JUSTICE HARLAN delivered the opinion of the court.

This is a writ of error to a judgment rendered against the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, in an action by Olga de Maluta Fraloff to recover the value of certain articles of wearing-apparel alleged to have been taken from her trunk while she was a passenger upon the cars of the

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company, and while the trunk was in its charge for transportation as part of her baggage.

There was evidence before the jury tending to establish the following facts:----

The defendant in error, a subject of the Czar of Russia, possessing large wealth, and enjoying high social position among her own people, after travelling in Europe, Asia, and Africa, spending some time in London and Paris, visited America in the year 1869, for the double purpose of benefiting her health and seeing this country. She brought with her to the United States six trunks of ordinary travel-worn appearance, containing a large quantity of wearing-apparel, including many elegant, costly dresses, and also rare and valuable laces, which she had been accustomed to wear upon different dresses when on visits, or frequenting theatres, or attending dinners, balls, and receptions. A portion of the laces was made by her ancestors upon their estates in Russia. After remaining some weeks in the city of New York, she started upon a journey westward, going first to Albany, and taking with her, among other things, two of the trunks brought to this country. Her ultimate purpose was to visit a warmer climate, and, upon reaching Chicago, to determine whether to visit California, New Orleans, Havana, and probably Rio Janeiro. After passing a day or so at Albany, she took passage on the cars of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company for Niagara Falls, delivering to the authorized agents of the company for transportation as her baggage the two trunks above described, which contained the larger portion of the dress-laces brought with her from Europe. Upon arriving at Niagara Falls she ascertained that one of the trunks, during transportation from Albany to the Falls, had been materially injured, its locks broken, its contents disturbed, and more than two hundred yards of dress-lace abstracted from the trunk in which it had been carefully placed before she left the city of New York. The company declined to pay the sum demanded as the value of the missing laces; and, having denied all liability therefor, this action was instituted to recover the damages which the defendant in error claimed to have sustained by reason of the loss of her property.

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Upon the first trial of the case, in 1873, the jury, being unable to agree, was discharged. A second trial took place in the year 1875. Upon the conclusion of the evidence in chief at the last trial, the company moved a dismissal of the action, and, at the same time, submitted numerous instructions which it asked to be then given to the jury, among which was one peremptorily directing a verdict in its favor. That motion was overruled, and the court declined to instruct the jury as requested. Subsequently, upon the conclusion of the evidence upon both sides, the motion for a peremptory instruction in behalf of the company was renewed, and again overruled. The court thereupon gave its charge, to which the company filed numerous exceptions, and also submitted written requests, forty-two in number, for instructions to the jury. The court refused to instruct the jury as asked, or otherwise than as shown in its own charge. To the action of the court in the several respects indicated the company excepted in due form. The jury returned a verdict against the company for the sum of $10,000, although the evidence, in some of its aspects, placed the value of the missing laces very far in excess of that amount.

It would extend this opinion to an improper length, and could serve no useful purpose, were we to enter upon a discussion of the various exceptions, unusual in their number, to the action of the court in the admission and exclusion of evidence, as well as in refusing to charge the jury as requested by the company. Certain controlling propositions are presented for our consideration, and upon their determination the substantial rights of parties seem to depend. If, in respect of these propositions, no error was committed, the judgment should be affirmed without any reference to points of a minor and merely technical nature,...

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