Hart v. Pennsylvania R. Co.
112 U.S. 331 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hart v. Pennsylvania R. Co., 112 U.S. 331 (1884)

Hart v. Pennsylvania Railroad Company

Argued November 13, 1884

Decided November 24, 1884

112 U.S. 331

Syllabus

Where a contract of carriage, signed by the shipper, is fairly made with a railroad company, agreeing on a valuation of the property carried, with the rate of freight based on the condition that the carrier assumes liability only to the extent of the agreed valuation, even in case of loss or damage by the negligence of the carrier, the contract will be upheld as a proper and lawful mode of securing a due proportion between the amount for which the carrier may be responsible and the freight he receives, and of protecting himself against extravagant and fanciful valuations.

H. shipped five horses and other property by a railroad in one car under a bill of lading signed by him which stated that the horses were to be transported

"upon the following terms and conditions, which are admitted and accepted by me as just and reasonable. First. To pay freight thereon [at a rate specified] on the condition that the carrier assumes a liability on the stock to the extent of the following agreed valuation: if horses or mules, not exceeding two hundred dollars each. . . . If a chartered car, on the stock and contents in same, twelve hundred dollars for the car load. But no carrier shall be liable for the acts of the animals themselves, nor for loss or damage arising from condition of the animals themselves, which risks, being beyond the control of the company, are hereby assumed by the owner and the carrier released therefrom."

By the negligence of the railroad company or its servants, one of the horses was killed and the others were injured, and the other property was lost. In a suit to recover the damages, it appeared that the horses were racehorses, and the plaintiff offered to show damages, based on their value, amounting to over $25,000. The testimony was excluded, and he had a verdict for $1,200. On a writ of error brought by him, held (1) the evidence was not admissible, and the valuation and limitation of liability in the bill of lading was just and reasonable, and binding on the plaintiff; (2) the terms of the limitation covered a loss through negligence.

Lawrence Hart brought this suit in a state court in Missouri against the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to recover damages from it as a common carrier for the breach of a contract to transport from Jersey City to St. Louis five horses and other property. The petition alleges that by the negligence of the defendant, one of the horses was killed and the others were injured, and the other property was destroyed, and claims damages

Page 112 U. S. 332

to the amount of $19,800. After an answer and a reply, the plaintiff removed the suit into the Circuit Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Missouri, where it was tried by a jury.

It appeared that the property was transported under a bill of lading issued by the defendant to the plaintiff, and signed by him, and reading as follows:

"Bill of Lading"

"Form No. 39, N.J."

"Limited Liability Livestock Contract for United Railroads"

"of New Jersey Division. No. 206."

"JERSEY CITY STATION, P.R.R., 187_"

"Lawrence Hart delivered into safe and suitable cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, numbered M.L. 224, for transportation from Jersey City to St. Louis, Mo.. livestock of the kind as follows: one (1) car, five horses, shipper's count; which has been received by said company, for themselves and on behalf of connecting carriers, for transportation, upon the following terms and conditions, which are admitted and accepted by me as just and reasonable:"

"First. To pay the freight thereon to said company at the rate of ninety-four (94) cents per one hundred pounds (company's weight), and all back freight and charges paid by them, on the condition that the carrier assumes a liability on the stock to the extent of the following agreed valuation."

"If horses or mules, not exceeding two hundred dollars each."

"If cattle or cows, not exceeding seventy-five dollars each."

"If fat hogs or fat calves, not exceeding fifteen dollars each."

"If sheep, lambs, stock hogs, or stock calves, not exceeding five dollars each."

"If a chartered car, on the stock and contents in same, twelve hundred dollars for the carload."

"But no carrier shall be liable for the acts of the animals themselves, or to each other, such as biting, kicking, goring, and smothering, nor for loss or damage arising from condition

Page 112 U. S. 333

of the animals themselves, which risks, being beyond the control of the company, are hereby assumed by the owner, and the carrier released therefrom."

"Second. Upon the arrival of the cars or boats containing said stock at point of destination, the shipper, owner, or consignee shall forthwith pay said freights and charges, and receive said stock therein, and unload the same therefrom, and if, from any cause, he or they shall fail or refuse to pay, receive, or unload, as aforesaid, then said company or other carrier, as the agent of such shipper, owner, or consignee, may thereupon have them put and provided for in some suitable place at the cost and risk of such shipper, owner, or consignee, and at any time or times thereafter may sell the same, or any number of them at public or private sale, with or without notice, as said agent may deem necessary or expedient, and apply the proceeds arising therefrom, or so much thereof as may be needed, to the payment of such freight and charges, and other necessary and proper costs and expenses."

"Third. When necessary for said stock to be transported over the line or lines of any other carrier or carriers to the point of destination, delivery of the said stock may be made to such other carrier or carriers for transportation, upon such terms and conditions as the carrier may be willing to accept, provided that the terms and conditions of this bill of lading shall inure to such carrier or carriers, unless they shall otherwise stipulate; but in no event shall one carrier be liable for the negligence of another."

"Fourth. All livestock transported under this contract shall be subject to a lien, and may be retained and sold for all freight or charges due for transportation on other livestock or property transported for the same owner, shipper, or consignee."

"Fifth. This company's liability is limited to the transportation of said animals, and shall not begin until they shall be loaded on board the boats or cars of the company. The owner of said animals, or some person appointed by him, shall go with, and take all requisite care of, the said animals during their transportation and delivery, and any omission to comply herewith

Page 112 U. S. 334

shall be at the owner's risk. Witness my hand and seal, this 20th day of October, 1879."

"LAWRENCE HART, Shipper [L.S.]"

"Attest:"

"E. BUTTER"

"W. J. CHARMERS"

"Company's Agent"

At the trial, the plaintiff put in evidence the bill of lading, and gave testimony to prove the alleged negligence, and how the loss and injury occurred. He then offered to show that the actual value of the horse killed was $15,000; that the other horses were worth from $3,000 to $3,500 each, and that they were rendered comparatively worthless in consequence of their injuries. The defendant objected to this testimony, on the ground that it was not competent for the plaintiff to prove any damage or loss in excess of that set out in the bill of lading. The court sustained the objection and the plaintiff excepted. It appeared on the trial that the horses were racehorses, and that they and the other property were all in one car.

It was admitted by the defendant that the damages sustained by the plaintiff were equal to the full amount expressed in the bill of lading. The court charged the jury as follows:

"It is competent for a shipper, by entering into a written contract, to stipulate the value of his property, and to limit the amount of his recovery in case it is lost. This is the plain agreement that the recovery shall not exceed the sum of two hundred dollars each for the horses, or twelve hundred dollars for a carload. It is admitted here by counsel for the defendant, under this charge, that the plaintiff is entitled to recover a verdict for twelve hundred dollars, and also, under the charge of the court, the plaintiff agrees that that is all. It is simply your duty to find a verdict for that amount."

The plaintiff excepted to this charge. The jury found a verdict of $1,200 for the plaintiff (see 2 McCrary 333), and after a judgment accordingly, the plaintiff brought this writ of error.

The errors assigned are that the court erred in refusing to permit the plaintiff to show the actual damages he had sustained,

Page 112 U. S. 335

and in so charging the jury as to restrict their verdict to $1,200.

Page 112 U. S. 336

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