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   Chapter 55 COMMON CARRIERS

Up To Date Business By Various Characters: 5177

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


What is meant by a common carrier? A person or company that is obliged to carry merchandise or passengers for a price or compensation from place to place. A common carrier cannot select his business, like a private carrier, but must carry all merchandise that is offered; or, if he is a carrier of persons, all persons who desire to go and are willing to respect all reasonable regulations that relate to carrying them. The principal common carriers are railroads, steamboats, and canal companies.

The liability of common carriers is very important to all who travel or send merchandise. A common carrier is liable for all losses not happening by the act of God or by the public enemy. By "act of God" is meant unavoidable calamity, such as lightning and tempests, and by "public enemy" is meant a nation at war with another. Once these were the only exceptions. Carriers were therefore insurers of the goods left with them to be carried to some other place.

This early rule of law fixing their liability has been greatly changed. Carriers can now make a contract relieving themselves of all liability for losses in carrying goods except those arising from their own negligence. The courts in a few cases have said that they can relieve themselves even from this, but this is not generally the law. They can, though, by special contract relieve themselves from all other liability. A railroad company, therefore, can make a contract for carrying wheat from Chicago to New York, relieving itself from all liability for loss by fire unless this shall be caused by its negligence. If a fire should occur without any negligence on the part of the company and goods on the way should be destroyed, it could not be held responsible for the loss if there was such a contract between the shipper and carrier. A carrier is no longer an insurer for the safe carrying of goods.

The courts have permitted carriers to thus lessen their liability because they are willing to take goods at lower prices than they would if they were to be responsible for all losses. They now virtually say to the shippers: "If you are willing to be your own insurers, or insure in insurance companies, and hold us for no losses except those arising from our own negligence, we are willing to carry your goods at a much lower rate." And, as shippers are willing to take the risks themselves for the sake of getting lower rates, the practice has become universal for lessening the liability of carriers in the manner described.

Suppose that goods are burned up by fire. The shipper must be the loser unless he

can show that it was caused by the negligence of the carrier. As he often can show this, he imagines that the carrier is still living under the old law and is liable as he was in the early days of railroad and steamboat companies. In truth, this is not so. His liability is measured by his contract, and there can be no recovery for any loss unless negligence on the carrier's part is clearly shown, and in many cases this is not easily done.

Though common or public carriers are obliged to take and transport almost everything, they may make reasonable regulations about the packing, etc., of merchandise. Suppose a shipper were to come to a railroad company's clerk with a quantity of glass not in boxes, and should say to him, "I wish this glass to be carried to New York"; and the clerk should say to him that the rules of the company required all glass to be packed in boxes lined with straw, and that the rule could not be set aside, however short might be the distance. Very likely the shipper would say to the agent: "This is expensive; I wish you to take it as it is." And if he should say to the agent that he was willing to run the risk of breakage, then, perhaps, the clerk might take it in; yet, even on those terms, some carriers would not. At all events, if the clerk should insist on following the rules, the shipper could not justly complain, for this rule is a very reasonable one, as the courts have many times declared.

Suppose a shipper should ask a carrier to take a load of potatoes or apples to Montreal in very cold weather. The carrier says to him: "There is danger of the apples being frozen. I am unwilling to carry them unless you will take the risk of their freezing." He could insist on these terms, because it would be unreasonable to require carriers to transport such merchandise and keep their cars heated. They are not made in that way and every shipper knows it, nor are carriers required to heat them.

The courts have said that any reasonable regulations respecting the merchandise to be carried, the packing, etc., must be respected. A carrier could refuse positively to carry dynamite or powder unless it was packed in a very careful manner. Doubtless many things are carried in ways quite contrary to the regulations, without the knowledge of the carrying companies. Packages are rarely examined and things may be put within, out of sight, of which carriers know nothing.

A carrier is not required to have cars enough to carry all goods on unusual occasions. But it must have enough to carry without delay all that come from day to day.

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