Molloy v. Starin

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtGRAY
PartiesMOLLOY v. STARIN.
Decision Date21 January 1908

191 N.Y. 21
83 N.E. 588

MOLLOY
v.
STARIN.

Court of Appeals of New York.

Jan. 21, 1908.


Appeal from Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department.

Action by Walter R. Molloy, an infant, by guardian, against John H. Starin. From a judgment of the Appellate Division (104 N. Y. Supp. 1133) affirming a judgment for plaintiff, defendant appeals. Reversed, and new trial ordered.

Cullen, C. J., dissenting.


[191 N.Y. 22]Dickinson W. Richards, for appellant.

191 N.Y. 23]Jonathan Deyo, for respondent.
GRAY, J.

The defendant is engaged in the business of a common carrier, and, as such received from their owner four trained bears for transportation on one of his stemboats from New York to New Haven. They were confined in cages, three of the sides of which were of wood, while the fourth side, or front, of the cage, consisted of an iron grating, over which a wooden slide was so adjusted as to be moved up and down. Upon arriving at New Haven, at 4:30 in the morning, the cages were removed to the defendant's freighthouse upon the dock, to await their delivery, at a later [191 N.Y. 24]hour, to the owner. He arranged the cages in the form of a square, somewhat apart, and so that the front of each cage should face within. He then raised the slides somewhat, watered the animals, and went off to arrange for taking them away. Some three hours later the plaintiff, a boy nine years old, and apparently quite capable of taking ordinary care of himself, came upon the dock, though having no business there, entered the freighthouse, and went between two of the cages. He was bending down to look through the grating of one of them, and, in that attitude, putting one foot back of the other, when the bear in the cage behind him seized it and inflicted the injury, for which this action was brought. He recovered a judgment against the defendant for damages, which the Appellate Division justices, not all concurring, have affirmed.

I am unable to perceive any legal ground for sustaining the recovery. There was no formal charge, and I find it somewhat difficult to understand, from the various rulings made by the trial court, upon requests for instructions to the jurors, on what theory the

[83 N.E. 589

case was submitted, unless it be this, that the defendant was liable, in all events, if the animal was ‘not being securely kept.’ The jurors were instructed that ‘this case is not considered as an action for damages for negligence,’ and that ‘if the boy was a licensee upon the defendant's premises, and if the bear was in the defendant's possession, and, through not being securely kept, injured the boy, the boy is entitled to recover, unless the injury was caused by an act of the boy, done with the knowledge that he was exposing himself to the risk of injury from the animal.’ It is probably the fact regarding the various instructions to the jurors that the trial court applied the strict rule of liability, adopted in cases where ferocious animals, whether ferae naturae or domitae, are kept, with the owner's knowledge of their ferocious propensities. In such cases no distinction seems to be made between the two classes of animals (Addison on Torts, 22, 230 [4th Eng. Ed.]), and the liability which attaches for any injury done is absolute, unless it can be [191 N.Y. 25]shown that the person injured voluntarily, or consciously, did something to bring about the injury. This rule of liability, I apprehend, is predicated upon the wrongful and unjustifiable conduct of the owner in keeping an animal of a vicious and therefore dangerous nature. If it is not securely confined, it is plainly a public nuisance, and security must be assured under all circumstances. The gravamen of the action in such cases is the keeping of the animal, with knowledge of its propensities, and, if it does some mischief, negligence is not, strictly speaking, an element of the owner's liability. There is, perhaps, a presumption juris et de jure of negligence based upon the keeping, and in that sense only an action would rest upon negligence. Card v. Case, 5 M. G. & S. 622. The liability of an owner is absolute, and he is bound to keep the animal secure, or he must suffer the penalty for his failure to do so, in making compensation for the mischief done. See Muller v. McKesson, 73 N. Y. 195, 29 Am. Rep. 123;Lynch v. McNally, 73 N. Y. 349; Kelly v. Tilton, 2 Abb. Dec. 495; Van Leuven v. Lyke, 1 N. Y. 516, 49 Am. Dec. 346;Spring Co. v. Edgar, 99 U. S. 645, 25 L. Ed. 487; May v. Burdett, 9 Ad. & El. (N. S.) 101; Card v. Case, supra.

In this case the owner of the bears might well be under an absolute liability for keeping that dangerous kind of property; but the defendant was not the owner of the bears, nor was he their keeper, within the meaning of the cases. He neither kept nor maintained them as an owner. As a common carrier he received them as so much freight, as he was warranted in doing; there being nothing in the condition in which they were taken over by him, which constituted a public menace or a nuisance. Indeed the jurors were expressly instructed that the defendant could not ‘refuse to take property for transportation simply because it was of a dangerous character.’ There is no suggestion that the animals were not securely confined in their cages, and the defendant, in receiving them as a carrier, assumed to their owner the carrier's liability for their safe carriage, and to the general public he owed the duty of adopting reasonable precautions[191 N.Y. 26]to prevent accidents while the animals were in his possession. The duty, or the responsibility, of the carrier, would be proportioned to the nature of the freight carried; for obviously a different degree of care would be called for if the item of freight is of a dangerous character, such as would be a wild and ferocious animal, or some highly explosive compound, from what would be required if some harmless article were in his custody. It does not appear that the defendant neglected the exercise of a reasonable precaution in carrying these animals, and, when they were taken from his vessel, they were placed within the freighthouse, with the cages so arranged as to have their fronts face within a square. Thus there was no danger whatever to the passing public. It required unauthorized meddling to create the danger. It cannot, with any show of reason, be said that it was improper to permit their owner to lift somewhat the wooden slides which covered the iron grating in order to admit air more freely. The grating itself was composed of upright iron bars, set from two to three inches apart into a horizontal iron bar, crossing the cage at a distance of about 10 inches from the floor. Thus constructed and placed as these cages were, there was no possibility of the animals doing any mischief, unless a person voluntarily and unnecessarily exposed himself to it, by going...

To continue reading

Request your trial
30 practice notes
  • Matthew H. v. Cnty. of Nassau, 2012-09074
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • June 17, 2015
    ...the vicious propensities and vicious acts of a dog “extends to a person who harbors the animal although not its owner” (Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 28, 83 N.E. 588 ; see Brice v. Bauer, 108 N.Y. 428, 431, 15 N.E. 695 ; see also 14 N.Y.S.3d 46 Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of S. New Berlin C......
  • Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of South New Berlin Cent. School
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • June 6, 1985
    ...propensities is one of strict liability or, as it is sometimes called, absolute liability, rather than negligence (Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 25, 83 N.E. 588; Muller v. McKesson, 73 N.Y. 195, 200; Lynch v. McNally, 73 N.Y. 347, 349; see, Strunk v. Zoltanski, 62 N.Y.2d 572, 479 N.Y.S.2d ......
  • Alexander v. Crochett, No. 19322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • January 30, 1939
    ...Goodwin, 54 Ill. 469; Farrell v. Crawford, 222 Ill. App. 499; 3 C.J. 1267; Janssen v. Voss, 207 N.W. 279, 189 Wis. 222; Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 83 N.E. 588; Sec. 205 of 7 U.S.C.A. (b) The evidence wholly fails to show that this bull was vicious or dangerous or more vicious and danger......
  • Hewitt v. Palmer Veterinary Clinic, PC, No. 28
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • October 22, 2020
    ...[the] plaintiff" ( Strunk v. Zoltanski , 62 N.Y.2d 572, 575, 479 N.Y.S.2d 175, 468 N.E.2d 13 [1984] ; see also Molloy v. Starin , 191 N.Y. 21, 27, 83 N.E. 588 [1908] [common carrier liable for injuries caused by animals it was transporting] ). Alternatively, if the owner knew that a do......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Matthew H. v. Cnty. of Nassau, 2012-09074
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • June 17, 2015
    ...the vicious propensities and vicious acts of a dog “extends to a person who harbors the animal although not its owner” (Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 28, 83 N.E. 588 ; see Brice v. Bauer, 108 N.Y. 428, 431, 15 N.E. 695 ; see also 14 N.Y.S.3d 46 Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of S. New Berlin C......
  • Arbegast v. Board of Educ. of South New Berlin Cent. School
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • June 6, 1985
    ...propensities is one of strict liability or, as it is sometimes called, absolute liability, rather than negligence (Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 25, 83 N.E. 588; Muller v. McKesson, 73 N.Y. 195, 200; Lynch v. McNally, 73 N.Y. 347, 349; see, Strunk v. Zoltanski, 62 N.Y.2d 572, 479 N.Y.S.2d ......
  • Alexander v. Crochett, No. 19322.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Missouri (US)
    • January 30, 1939
    ...Goodwin, 54 Ill. 469; Farrell v. Crawford, 222 Ill. App. 499; 3 C.J. 1267; Janssen v. Voss, 207 N.W. 279, 189 Wis. 222; Molloy v. Starin, 191 N.Y. 21, 83 N.E. 588; Sec. 205 of 7 U.S.C.A. (b) The evidence wholly fails to show that this bull was vicious or dangerous or more vicious and danger......
  • Hewitt v. Palmer Veterinary Clinic, PC, No. 28
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • October 22, 2020
    ...[the] plaintiff" ( Strunk v. Zoltanski , 62 N.Y.2d 572, 575, 479 N.Y.S.2d 175, 468 N.E.2d 13 [1984] ; see also Molloy v. Starin , 191 N.Y. 21, 27, 83 N.E. 588 [1908] [common carrier liable for injuries caused by animals it was transporting] ). Alternatively, if the owner knew that a do......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT