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   Chapter 57 ON THE KEEPING OF THINGS

Up To Date Business By Various Characters: 5156

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


There are some principles of every-day importance relating to the keeping of things.

In our last lecture was mentioned the carriage of merchandise by common carriers. They not only carry merchandise-they also keep it. When merchandise reaches its destination and shippers have had a reasonable time to take it away, but neglect to do so, a common carrier is no longer liable for its safe keeping as a common carrier but only as a warehouseman. What do we mean by this? As we have seen, a common carrier, unless he makes a special contract for carrying the merchandise, is liable for everything lost or injured except "by the act of God or the public enemy"; or, as we have already said, he is an insurer for safely taking and keeping the merchandise while it is in his charge. When the merchandise has reached the final station, and the person to whom it is shipped or sent has had ample time to take it away and does not do so, the carrier still keeps the merchandise in his warehouse or depot, but he is no longer liable as a carrier for keeping it but simply as a warehouseman. In other words, if goods are kept by him for this longer period, he is liable for their loss only in the event of gross negligence on his part. If a fire should break out and the goods be burned, unless it happened by his own gross negligence, he would not be liable for the loss. So, too, if a thief should break into his warehouse and steal the goods, he would not be liable for the theft unless it was shown that he was grossly negligent in not providing a safer building. If the rats and mice should destroy the goods while they were in the common carrier's building, the same rule would apply; or if they were injured or destroyed in any other manner, he would not be responsible for the loss unless gross negligence was shown.

Different rules apply, depending on whether the keeper, or bailee, gets any compensation for storage. In our lecture relating to sales we stated that the seller would not be liable for the loss of anything intrusted to his keeping after it had been bought of him unless he was grossly negligent, for the reason that no reward or compensation is paid to him for storage. There are, therefore, two rules which govern many cases. If a person keeps a thing for a reward or compensation, then he is bound by a stricter rule of diligence than in those cases in which he receives nothing for his service. This accords with the common reason of mankind. Evidently if a person keeps a thing simply as an act of kindness, he ought not to be responsible in the same sen

se that one is held responsible who is paid a fixed price for such service.

Another good illustration is that of a bank which keeps the bonds of a depositor in its safe for his accommodation. The bank does not pretend to be a safe-deposit company or anything of the kind, but it has a large vault and wishes to accommodate its customers by keeping their stocks and bonds and other articles for them while they are off on vacations or for other reasons. It is a common thing for a customer to go to his bank, especially in the country, and ask the cashier to keep his valuables during his absence. The cashier is willing to comply, and the things are intrusted to him; but as the bank receives no compensation for this service it is not responsible for their loss unless it is grossly negligent in the matter. Suppose they are put in the safe among other valuables belonging to the bank and a robber breaks in and takes them away-is the bank responsible? Certainly not. On the other hand, if the customer should leave his valuables at a safe-deposit company, a different rule would apply, because that company charges him for keeping the articles. It is therefore bound by a stricter rule than the bank. It must use the greatest care, and if neglectful in any respect it is responsible for the consequences.

Suppose a person should say to me: "Will you be good enough to leave this package with a jeweller on your way down street?" I say to my friend: "Certainly, with the greatest pleasure." What degree of care must I use in carrying that package? Only ordinary care. Suppose in going along the street a thief, without my knowledge, should walk beside me and slip his hand into my pocket and take the package, and on my arrival at the jewellery store I should find that it was gone. Should I be responsible for the loss? Certainly not, because I had neither received nor expected to receive any reward for taking the package to the store. Of course, if it could be shown that I was unnecessarily negligent in carrying the parcel, the owner might be justified in claiming damages.

One thing more may be added. If a bailee should be a scoundrel and sell the thing left with him for safe-keeping and receive the money, the true owner could, nevertheless, claim the thing wherever he could find it. The owner would not get a good title. This rule of law applies to everything except negotiable paper. A person who buys that in good faith, honestly, not knowing that it was stolen, and pays money, gets a good title. This is the only exception to the above rule in the law.

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