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BANK OF KENTUCKY v. ADAMS EXPRESS Co.
be regarded as common carriers, and in the absence of stipulations to the contrary, subject to all the legal responsibilities of such carriers.
On the 26th day of July, 1869, the Southern Express Company received from the Louisiana National Bank at New Orleans, two packages, one containing $13,528.15, for delivery to the Bank of Kentucky, Louisville, and the other containing $3,000, for delivery to the Planters' National Bank of Louisville, at Louisville. The money belonged to the banks respectively to which the packages were sent. When the packages were thus received, the agent of the Southern Express Company gave a receipt or domestic bill of lading for each, of which the following is a copy (the two differing only in the description of the consignees and in the amount of money mentioned): –
“ Domestic Bill of Lading. “SOUTHERN EXPRESS COMPANY, EXPRESS FORWARDERS. “ No. 2. $13,528.15.
July 26, 1869. “ Received from Lou. Nat. Bank, one package, sealed, and said to contain thirteen thousand five hundred and twenty-eight dollars and fifteen cents.
“ Addressed Bank of Kentucky, Louisville, Ky. Freight coll.”
“ Upon the special acceptance and agreement that this company is to forward the same to its agent nearest or most convenient to destination only, and then to deliver the same to other parties to complete the transportation, such delivery to terminate all liability of this company for such package; and also that this company are not to be liable in any manner or to any extent for any loss, danger, or detention of such package, or its contents, or of any portion thereof occasioned by the acts of God, or by any person or persons acting or claiming to act in any military or other capacity in hostility to the government of the United States, or occasioned by civil or military authority, or by the acts of any armed or other mob or riotous assemblage, piracy, or the dangers incident to a time of war, nor when occasioned by the dangers of railroad transportation, or ocean or river navigation, or by fire or steam. The shipper and owner hereby severally agree that all the stipulations and conditions in this receipt shall extend to and enure to the benefit of each and every company or person to whom the Southern Express Company may intrust or deliver the above described property for transportation, and shall define and limit the liability therefor of such other companies or person. . In no event is this company to be liable for a greater sum than that above mentioned, nor shall it be liable for any such loss, unless the claim therefor shall be made in writing, at this office, within thirty days from this date, in a statement to which this receipt shall be annexed.
“ Freight coll.
" SHACKLEFORD." Across the left-hand end of said receipt was the following printed matter :
"Insured by Southern Express Company for — to — only except against loss occasioned by the public enemy.
" For the company -
Having thus received the packages, the Southern Express Company transported them by railroad as far as Humboldt, Tennessee, and there delivered them to the messenger of the defendants (who was also their [No. 3.
BANK OF KENTUCKY v. ADAMS EXPRESS Co.
messenger) to complete the transportation to Louisville, and to make delivery thereof to the plaintiffs. For that purpose the messenger took charge of them, placing them in an iron safe, and depositing the safe in an apartment of a car set apart for the use of express companies, for transportation to Louisville. Subsequently, while the train to which the car containing the packages was attached was passing over a trestle on the line of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and while the packages were in charge of the messenger, the trestle gave way during the night. The train with the express car was thrown from the track, and the car with others caught fire from the locomotive and was burned, together with the money in the safe. The messenger was rendered insensible by the fall, and he continued so until after the destruction was complete. There was some evidence that some of the timber of the trestle seemed decayed.
Upon this state of facts the learned judge of the circuit court instructed the jury that “if they believed the package was destroyed by fire, as above indicated, without any fault or neglect whatever on behalf of the messenger of defendants, the defendants have brought themselves within the terms of the exceptions in the bill of lading, and are not liable.” And again, the court charged : “ It is not material to inquire whether the accident resulted from the want of care, or from the negligence of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company and its agents, or not.” And again : “But when he (the common carrier) has limited his liability so as to make himself responsible for ordinary care only, and the shipper to recover against him is obliged to aver and prove negligence, it must be his negligence, or the negligence of his agents, and not the negligence of persons over whom he has no control. If in his employment he uses the vehicles of others, over which he has no control, and uses reasonable care, that is, such care as ordinarily prudent persons engaged in like business use in selecting the vehicles, and if the loss arises from a cause against which he has stipulated with the shipper, he shall not be liable for the same unless it arises from his want of care, or the want of care of his employees.” At the same time the learned judge instructed the jury as follows: “Without, therefore, deciding whether or not the evidence adduced in the case tends to establish any want of reasonable or ordinary care on the part of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, I instruct you that such evidence is irrelevant and incompetent, and that you should disregard it, that is, give no more effect to it than if it had not been adduced.”
These extracts from the charge, to all of which exception was duly taken, exhibit the most important question in these cases, which is, whether the stipulations of the carriers' receipt or bill of lading relieved them from responsibility for the negligence of the railroad company employed by them to complete the carriage. The circuit court was of opinion, as we have seen, that they did, and practically instructed the jury that under the modified contract of bailment the defendants were liable for loss by fire only to the extent to which mere bailees for hire, not common carriers, are liable; that is, that they were responsible only for the want of ordinary care exercised by themselves or those who were under their control. With this we cannot concur, though we are not unmindful of the ability with which the learned judge has defended his opinion.
We have already remarked, the defendants were common carriers.
BANK OF KENTUCKY V. ADAMS EXPRESS Co.
They were not the less such because they had stipulated for a more restricted liability than would have been theirs had their receipt contained only a contract to carry and deliver. What they were is to be determined by the nature of their business, not by the contract they made respecting the liabilities which should attend it. Having taken up the occupation, its fixed legal character could not be thrown off by any declaration or stipulation that they should not be considered such carriers.
The duty of a common carrier is to transport and deliver safely. He is made by law an insurer against all failure to perform this duty, except such failure as may be caused by the public enemy or by what is denominated the act of God. By special contract with his employers, he may, it is true, to some extent, be excused, if the limitations to his responsibility stipulated for are, in the judgment of the law, reasonable, and not inconsistent with sound public policy. It is agreed, however, he cannot by any contract with his customers relieve himself from responsibility for his own negligence or that of his servants, and this because such a contract is unreasonable and contrary to legal policy. So much has been finally determined in Railroad Company v. Lockwood, 17 Wall. 357. But can he by a contract made with those who intrust property to him for carriage and delivery, a contract made at the time he receives the property, secure to himself exemption from responsibility for consequences of the negligence of a railroad company or its agents not owned or controlled by him, but which he employs in the transportation ? This question is not answered in the Lockwood case. It is raised here, or rather the question is presented, whether a common carrier does relieve himself from the consequences of such negligence by a stipulation that he shall not be liable for losses by fire.
The exception or restriction to the common law liability introduced into the bills of lading given by the defendants, so far as it is necessary to consider it, is “that the express company are not to be liable in any manner or to any extent for any loss or damage or detention of such package or its contents, or of any portion thereof, occasioned by fire.” . The language is very broad, but it must be construed reasonably, and, if possible, consistently with the law. It is not to be presumed the parties intended to make a contract which the law does not allow. If construed literally, the exception extends to all loss by fire, no matter how occasioned, whether occurring accidentally or caused by the culpable negligence of the carriers or their servants, and even to all losses by fire caused by wilful acts of the carriers themselves. That it can be operative to such an extent is not claimed. Nor is it insisted that the stipulation, though assented to by the shippers, can protect the defendants against responsibility for failure to deliver the packages according to their engagement, when such failure has been caused by their own misconduct or that of their servants or agents. But the circuit court ruled the exception did extend to negligence beyond the carriers' own, and that of the servants and agents appointed by them and under their control ; that it extended to losses by fire resulting from the carelessness of a railroad company employed by them in the service which they undertook, to carry the packages; and the reason assigned for the ruling was that the railroad company and its employees were not under the control of the defendants. Vol. IV.]
BANK OF KENTUCKY v. Adams EXPRESS Co.
thoritwho undertar service and the em
With this ruling we are unable to concur. The railroad company, in transporting the messenger of the defendants and the express matter in his charge, was the agent of somebody, either of the express company or of the shippers or consignees of the property. That it was the agent of the defendants is quite clear. It was employed by them and paid by them. The service it was called upon to perform was a service for the defendants, a duty incumbent upon them, and not upon the plaintiffs. The latter had nothing to do with the employment. It was neither directed by them, nor had they any control over the railroad company or its employees. It is true the defendants had also no control over the company or its servants, but they were its employers ; presumably they paid for its service, and that service was directly and immediately for them. Control of the conduct of an agency is not in all cases essential to liability for the consequences of that conduct. If any one is to be affected by the acts or omissions of persons employed to do a particular service, surely it must be he who gave the employment. Their acts became his, because done in his service and by his direction. Moreover, a common carrier who undertakes for himself to perform an entire service has no authority to constitute another person or corporation the agent of his consignor or consignee. He may employ a subordinate agency, but it must be subordinate to him, and not to one who neither employs it nor pays, nor has any right to interfere with it.
If, then, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company was acting for these defendants, and performing a service for them, when transporting the packages they had undertaken to convey, as we think must be concluded, it would seem it must be considered their agent. And why is not the reason of the rule, that common carriers cannot stipulate for exemption from liability for their own negligence and that of their servants and agents, as applicable to the contract made in these cases as it was to the facts that appeared in the case of Railroad Company v. Lockwood The foundation of the rule is, that it tends to the greater security of consignors, who always deal with such carriers at a disadvantage. It tends to induce greater care and watchfulness in those to whom an owner intrusts his goods, and by whom alone the needful care can be exercised. Any contract that withdraws a motive for such care, or that makes a failure to bestow upon the duty assumed extreme vigilance and caution more probable, takes away the security of the consignors and makes common carriage more unreliable. This is equally true, whether the contract be for exemption from liability for the negligence of agencies employed by the carrier to assist him in the discharge of his obligations, though he has no control over them, or whether it be for exemption from liability for a loss occasioned by the carelessness of his immediate servant. Even in the latter case he may have no actual control. Theoretically he has ; but most frequently when the negligence of his servant occurs he is not at hand, has no opportunity to give directions, and the negligent act is against his will. He is responsible, because he has put the servant in a place where the wrong could be done. It is quite as important to the consignor, and to the public, that the subordinate agency, though not a servant under immediate control, should be held to the strictest care, as it is that the carrier himself and the servant under his orders should be. Vol. IV.)
BANK OF KENTUCKY V. ADAMS EXPRESS Co.
For these reasons we think it is not admissible to construe the exception in the defendants' bills of lading as excusing them from liability for the loss of the packages by fire, if caused by the negligence of the railroad company to which they confided a part of the duty they had assumed.
There are other reasons of weight which deserve consideration. Express companies frequently carry over long routes, at great distances from the places of designation of the property carried, and from the residence of its owners. If in the course of transportation a loss occurs through the want of care of managers of public conveyances which they employ, the carriers or their servants are at hand. They are best acquainted with the facts. To them those managers of the public conveyances are responsible, and they can obtain redress much more conveniently than distant owners of the property can. Indeed, in many cases, suits by absent owners would be attended with serious difficulties. Besides, express companies make their own bargains with the companies they employ, while they keep the property in their own charge, usually attended by a messenger. It was so in the present case. The defendants had an arrangement with the railroad company, under which the packages of money, inclosed in an iron safe, were put into an apartment of a car set apart for the use of the express company ; yet the safe containing the packages continued in the custody of the messenger. Therefore, as between the defendants and the railroad company, it may be doubted whether the relation was that of a common carrier to his consignor, because the company had not the packages in charge. The department in the car was the defendants' for the time being; and if the defendants retained the custody of the packages carried, instead of trusting them to the company, the latter did not insure the carriage. Miles v. Cattle, 6 Bingham, 743 ; Towers v. The Utica g Syracuse R. R. Co. 7 Hill, N. Y. 47; Redfield on Railways, sec. 74.
Now, can it be a reasonable construction to give to the contract between the defendants and the plaintiffs, that the former, who had agreed to carry and deliver the packages at Louisville, reserved to themselves the right to employ a subordinate carrier, arrange with him that he should be responsible only for ordinary vigilance against fire, and by that arrangement relieve themselves from what without it would have been their clear duty ? Granting that the plaintiffs can sue the railroad company for the loss of the packages through its fault, their right comes through their contract between it and the defendants. They must claim through that. 6 How. 381. Had the packages been delivered to the charge of the railroad company, without any stipulation for exemption from the ordinary liability of carriers, it would have been an insurer both to the express company and to the plaintiffs. But as they were not so delivered, the right of the plaintiffs to the extremest constant vigilance during all stages of the carriage is lost, if the defendants are not answerable for the negligence of the railroad company, notwithstanding the exception in their bills of lading. We cannot close our eyes to the well known course of business in the country. Over very many of our railroads the contracts for transportation of goods are made, not with the owners of the roads, nor with the railroad companies themselves, but with transportation agencies or companies which have arrangements with the railroad companies for the carriage. In this manner some of the responsibilities of common