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U.S. Supreme Court

Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Elmore & Stahl, 377 U.S. 134 (1964)

Missouri Pacific R. Co. v. Elmore & Stahl

No. 292

Argued March 3, 1964

Decided May 4, 1964

377 U.S. 134


Seeking recovery for damage to an interstate shipment of melons, respondent shipper brought this action in a state court against the carrier. The jury made special findings that the melons were in good condition when turned over to the carrier, but in damaged condition when they reached their destination, and that the carrier performed all transportation services without negligence. But the jury refused to find that the carrier had sustained the burden of proving that the damage was due solely to the "inherent vice" of the melons. On these findings, the trial court awarded damages to respondent. The state Supreme Court affirmed on the ground that, under federal law, a carrier is not relieved of liability by showing that transportation services were not negligently performed, but must also establish that damage was caused by one of the excepted common law perils, here the natural deterioration of the melons.

Held: Under § 20 (11) of the Interstate Commerce Act, which codifies the common law rule that a carrier, while not an absolute insurer, is liable for damages unless caused by an act of God, a public enemy, the shipper, public authority, or the inherent vice or nature of the goods, the shipper makes out a prima facie case when he shows delivery in good condition, arrival damaged, and the quantum of damages. The carrier then has the burden of proving lack of negligence, and that damage was due to one of the exceptions relieving it of liability.

(a) The rule of liability is the same for nonperishable and perishable commodities (other than livestock). Pp. 377 U. S. 139-140.

(b) Rules 130 and 135 of the Perishable Protective Tariff merely restate the common law rules of liability. Pp. 377 U. S. 140-143.

(c) The rule of liability of the carrier is based upon its knowledge concerning the condition of the shipment while in its possession. Pp. 377 U. S. 143-144.

368 S.W.2d 99 affirmed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 377 U. S. 135

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