222 U.S. 473 (1912), 124, Cuba Railroad Company v. Crosby

Docket Nº:No. 124
Citation:222 U.S. 473, 32 S.Ct. 132, 56 L.Ed. 274
Party Name:Cuba Railroad Company v. Crosby
Case Date:January 09, 1912
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 473

222 U.S. 473 (1912)

32 S.Ct. 132, 56 L.Ed. 274

Cuba Railroad Company



No. 124

United States Supreme Court

January 9, 1912

Argued December 18, 1911




In dealing with rudimentary contracts, or tort made or committed abroad, courts may assume a liability to exist if nothing to the contrary appears, but they cannot assume that the rights and liabilities are fixed and measured in the same manner in foreign countries a they are in this.

With rare exceptions, the liabilities of parties to each other are fixed by the law of the territorial jurisdiction within which the wrong is done and the parties are at the time of doing it.

The extension of hospitality of our court to foreign suitor must not be made a cover for injustice to defendant of whom they may be able to lay hold.

There is no general presumption that the law of Cuba as inherited from Spain and as since modified is the same as the common law.

While as between two common law countries the common law may be presumed to be the same in one as in the other, a statute of one would not be presumed to be the statute of the other.

A trial court of the United States cannot presume that the same obligation rest upon an employer in Cuba as in this country to repair defect in machinery called to his attention, or in case of failure to repair to be deprived of the fellow-servant defense. Such a rule of law, if existent in a foreign jurisdiction, must be proved.

170 F. 369 reversed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 477

HOLMES, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action for the loss of a hand through a defect in machinery, in connection with which the defendant in error, the plaintiff, was employed. The plaintiff had noticed the defect and reported it, and, according to his testimony, had been promised that it should be repaired or replaced as soon as they had time, and he had been told to go on in the meanwhile. The jury was instructed that, if that was what took place, the defendant company assumed the risk for a reasonable time, and, in effect, that, if that time had not expired, the plaintiff was entitled to recover. The jury found for the plaintiff. The accident took place in Cuba, and no evidence was given as to the Cuban law, but the judge held that, if that law was different from the lex fori, it was for the defendant to allege and prove it, and that, as it had pleaded only the general issue, the verdict must stand. 158 F. 144. The judgment was affirmed by a majority of the circuit court of appeals. 170 F. 369.

The court below went on the ground that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, it would "apply the law as it conceives it to be, according to its idea of right and justice; or, in other words, according to the law of the forum." We regard this statement as too broad, and as having been wrongly applied to this case.

Page 478

It may be that, in dealing with rudimentary contracts or torts made or committed abroad, such as promises to pay money for goods or services, or battery of the person, or conversion of goods, courts would assume a liability to exist if nothing to the contrary appeared. Parrot v. Mexican Central Railway, 207 Mass. 184. Such matters are likely to impose an obligation in all civilized countries. But when an action is brought upon a cause arising outside of the jurisdiction, it always should be borne in mind that the duty of the court is not to administer its notion of justice, but to enforce an obligation that has been created by a...

To continue reading