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U.S. Supreme Court

Bank of Kentucky v. Adams Express Company, 93 U.S. 174 (1876)

Bank of Kentucky v. Adams Express Company

93 U.S. 174


1. A party engaged as a common carrier cannot, by declaring or stipulating that he shall not be so considered, divest himself of the liability attached to the fixed legal character of that occupation.

2. 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 an agency, but it must be subordinate to him, and not to the shipper, who neither employs it, pays it, nor has any right to interfere with it. Its acts become his, because done in his service and by his direction.

3. Therefore where an express company engaged to transport packages, &c., from one point to another, sends its messenger in charge of them on the car set apart for its use by the railroad company employed to perform the service, the latter company becomes the agent of the former.

4. An exception in its bill of lading,

"that the express company is 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,"

does not excuse the company from liability for the loss of such package by fire if caused by the negligence of a railroad company to which the former had confided a part of the duty it had assumed.

5. Public policy demands that the right of the owners to absolute security against the negligence of the carrier, and of all persons engaged in performing his duty, shall not be taken away by any reservation in his receipt or by any arrangement between him and the performing company.

These are actions by the plaintiffs in error to recover the value of certain packages containing money which, on their transportation over the Louisville and Nashville Railroad in charge of a messenger of the defendant in error, were destroyed by fire. There was a verdict and judgment in each case for the defendant. The plaintiffs sued out these writs of error. The facts are set forth in the opinion of the Court. So much of the instructions of the court below as are referred to but not incorporated in the opinion are as follows:

"If the jury believe that the teller of the Louisiana National Bank presented the bill of lading to the agent of the express company for his signature, with the blanks filled, and at such time delivered to the agent the package of money

Page 93 U. S. 175

without disclosing who was the owner of it, but addressed to the plaintiff at Louisville that the bill of lading was signed and redelivered to the teller and forwarded to the plaintiff at Louisville, then the bill of lading thus signed constitutes the contract, and all the exceptions in it are a part of the contract, no matter whether each or all of them were known to the Louisiana National Bank or not, and the plaintiff is bound by the contract, whether it expressly authorized the Louisiana National Bank to make it or not. The evidence tending to show that the bill of lading was not read at the time of the signing, and that nothing was said about the exceptions contained in it, is immaterial."

"It is claimed by the plaintiff that the defendant was wanting in care in the use of the safe or box in which the package was at the time of the loss. If there was any such want of reasonable care in this particular, the defendant is undoubtedly liable; but if the safe was such as prudent persons engaged in like employment generally use for the purpose, there was no want of care, and the defendant is not responsible for want of care in this particular. "

Page 93 U. S. 177

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