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Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo
Benjamin Cardozo

Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. (1928) is a leading case in American tort law on the question of liability to an unforeseeable plaintiff. Arising out of an unusual incident on August 24, 1924, the case has been studied by generations of law students. The plaintiff, Helen Palsgraf, was injured as she was boarding a train when a man (aided by railroad employees) dropped a package that exploded, causing a large coin-operated scale on the platform to hit her. She sued the railroad, arguing that she had been harmed by the negligence of its employees while they assisted the man. She won a jury verdict but lost on appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York; its opinion was written by Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo (pictured), a leading figure in the development of American common law and later a Supreme Court justice. Cardozo wrote for a majority of the Court of Appeals, ruling that the railroad was not negligent because its employees, in helping the man board, did not have a duty of care to Palsgraf as injury to her was not a foreseeable harm from aiding a man with a package. (Full article...)

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