Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman
Common carriers are far more numerous and important. Receiving a reward they are required to exercise more care in the business. The old rule of the common law was very strict, but this has been greatly modified. A carrier may modify the rule by contract, and the bill of lading received by the shipper is regarded as one, and sets forth his liability. In a general way he can relieve himself from all liability except from his own negligence, and there are cases which hold that he can relieve himself even from that if the shipper, for the sake of having his goods carried at a lower price, is willing to relieve him, in other words is willing to assume all the risk himself.
A carrier can limit his liability for the loss of baggage entrusted to his care and when one receives a receipt describing the amount of the carrier's liability in the event of loss. Nor can he hold the company on the plea of ignorance by declaring he has not read it, for it is his duty to read the receipt. Again, a carrier is thus liable only when a traveler's baggage is entrusted to his care; if therefore he keeps his grip or umbrella and on looking around makes the painful discovery that he has been relieved of them, he cannot look to the carrier for compensation.
The law requires carriers to carry all who pay their fare, and are in a sufficiently intelligent condition to take care of themselves. In like manner the law requires them to take all freight that may be offered, though it may make reasonable rules with regard to the time of receiving it, mode of packing, etc. A regulation therefore that furniture must be crated is reasonable, and a carrier may refuse to take it unless it is thus prepared for shipment. So also is a rule requiring glass to be boxed though the distance may be short for carrying it. A carrier may also object to carrying things out of season, potatoes or fruit for example in the winter in the northern states where there is great danger of freezing, unless the shipper assumes the risk. Vast quantities of perishable goods are carried, but usually under definite regulations and contracts. So, too, the shipper must declare the nature of the thing carried. Should he put diamonds in his trunk, he could not recover for their loss, for he has no business to carry such a valuable thing in that way. He must make known the contents for the carrier's protection. He cannot carry an explosive in secrecy. To attempt to do such a thing is a manifest wrong to the carrier.
A carrier has a lien or right to hold the freight until the charge for transporting it is paid, but if it is delivered, the lien ceases and cannot be restored. If the carrier keeps it until the freight charge is paid discretion must be used, and unnecessary and unreasonable expense must not be incurred in so doing.
A different rule applies to carrying passengers than applies to freight, because the latter is under its complete control, while passengers are not. Nevertheless the law requires a high degree of care in carrying passengers, and is responsible in money damages should injury occur through the carrier's negligence. In many states statutes exist limiting the amount that a carrier must pay when life is lost through its negligence to five thousand dollars or other sum, while a much larger sum is often recovered for an injury, loss of a leg, arm or the like. From the carrier's point of view therefore it is often obliged to pay less for killing than for injuring people; this is one of the strange anomalies of the law.
When a passenger is injured and no agreement can be made with the carrier for compensation, a suit is the result and the chief question is one of fact, the extent of the injury, and the degree of negligence of the carrier. If, on the other hand, the passenger was in fault himself and contributed to the injury then the more general rule is he can recover nothing. In some states the courts attempt to ascertain the negligence of both parties, when both are at fault, and then award a verdict in favor of the one least in fault. This is a difficult rule to apply however just it may seem to be.
A passenger who stands on a platform or on the steps of a street car, when there is room inside, assumes all the risks himself. But if there is no room within and the conductor knows he is outside, and permits him to ride, he is under the same protection as other passengers. An interurban car had stopped and A who was carrying two valises attempted to board it. The act of the conductor, who was on the rear platform, in reaching down and taking one of the valises amounted to an invitation to A to board the car. In signaling to the motorman to start the car when A was stepping to the vestibule from the lower step, thus causing the injury to him, was negligence for which the company was liable.
A sleeping car company operating in connection with ordinary trains is not a common carrier, nor an innkeeper as to the baggage of a passenger. Yet it is liable for ordinary negligence in protecting passengers from loss by theft. In a well-considered case the judge said: "Where a passenger does not deliver his property to a carrier, but retains the exclusive possession and control of it himself, the carrier is not liable in case of a loss, as for instance, where a passenger's pocket is picked, or his overcoat taken. A person asleep cannot retain manual possession or control of anything. The invitation to make use of the bed carries with it an invitation to sleep, and an implied agreement to take reasonable care of the guest's effects while he is in such a state that care upon his own part is impossible. I think it should keep a watch during the night, see to it that no unauthorized persons intrude themselves into the car, and take reasonable care to prevent thefts by occupants."
There is a distinction between the great express companies of the country and local express companies receiving baggage from travelers for transportation to their immediate destination. In the latter case there is nothing in the nature of the transaction or the custom of the trade which should naturally lead the shipper to suppose that he was receiving and accepting the written evidence of a contract, and therefore he is not bound by the terms of the receipt received, unless there is other evidence that he assented thereto.
Though the United States is a common carrier for carrying mails, it cannot be held liable because it is a branch of the government. Mail matter may be carried by private persons, but this is limited to special trips. By statute no person can establish any private express for carrying letters or packets by regular trips or at stated periods over any post route, or between towns, cities or other places where the mail is regularly carried.
A public officer in performing his duties is exempt from all liability. But a postmaster is liable to a person injured by his negligence or misconduct and for the acts of a clerk or deputy authorized by him. The assistant unless thus shielded must answer for his own misconduct. A rider or driver employed by a contractor for carrying the mails is an assistant in the business of the government. Although employed and paid, and liable to be discharged at pleasure by the contractor, the rider or driver is not engaged in his private service; he is employed in the public service and therefore the contractor is not liable for his conduct.
Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Carrier
Page Updated 7:40 PM Thursday 6/13/2013