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Opinion of the Court.
dispatch and accurate transmission to the other end of the line, if the wires were in working condition; or, by special contract for insurance, could have secured himself against all consequences of non-delivery. He did not think proper, however, to adopt such precaution, but chose rather to take the risk of the less expensive terms of sending his message. And having refused to pay the extra charge for repetition or insurance, we think he had no right to rely upon the declaration of the appellant's agent that the message had gone through, in order to fix the liability on the company."
In Passmore v. Western Union Tel. Co., 9 Phila. 90, and 78 Penn. St. 238, at the trial in the district court of Philadelphia, there was evidence that Passmore, of whom one Edwards had offered to purchase a tract of land in West Virginia, wrote and delivered to the company at Parkersburg, upon a blank containing similar conditions, a message to Edwards at Philadelphia, in these words: "I hold the Tibbs tract for you; all will be right," but which, as delivered by the company in Philadelphia, was altered by substituting the word 'sold' for 'hold; and that Edwards thereupon broke off the contract for the purchase of the land, and Passmore had to sell it at a great loss. The verdict being for the plaintiff, the court reserved the question whether the defendant was liable, inasmuch as the plaintiff had not insured the message, nor directed it to be repeated; and afterwards entered judgment for the defendant, notwithstanding the verdict, in accordance with an opinion of Judge Hare, the most important parts of which were as follows:
"A railway, telegraph, or other company, charged with a duty which concerns the public interest, cannot screen themselves from liability for negligence; but they may prescribe rules calculated to insure safety, and diminish the loss in the event of accident, and declare that, if these are not observed, the injured party shall be considered as in default, and precluded by the doctrine of contributory negligence. The rule must, however, be such as that reason, which is said to be the life of the law, can approve; or, at the least, such as it need not condemn. By no device can a body corporate avoid lia
Opinion of the Court.
bility for fraud, for wilful wrong, or for the gross negligence which, if it does not intend to occasion injury, is reckless of consequences, and transcends the bounds of right with full knowledge that mischief may ensue. Nor, as I am inclined to think, will any stipulation against liability be valid, which has the pecuniary interest of the corporation as its sole object, and takes a safeguard from the public without giving anything in return. But a rule — which, in marking out a path plain and easily accessible, as that in which the company guarantees that every one shall be secure, declares that if any man prefers to walk outside of it, they will accompany him, will do their best to secure and protect him, but will not be insurers, will not consent to be responsible for accidents arising from fortuitous and unexpected causes, or even from a want of care and watchfulness on the part of their agents- - may be a reasonable rule, and, as such, upheld by the courts."
"The function of the telegraph differs from that of the post-office in this, that while the latter is not concerned with the contents of the missive, and merely agrees to forward it to its address, the former undertakes the much more difficult task of transcribing a message written according to one method of notation, in characters which are entirely different, with all the liability to error necessarily incident to such a process. Nor is this all. The telegraph operator is separated by a distance of many miles from the paper on which he writes, so that his eye cannot discern and correct the mistakes committed by his hand. It was also contended during the argument, that the electric fluid which is used as the medium of communication is liable to perturbations arising from thunder storms and other natural causes. It is, therefore, obvious that entire accuracy cannot always be obtained by the greatest care; and that the only method of avoiding error is to compare the copy with the original, or, in other words, that the operator to whom the message is sent should telegraph it back to the station whence it came."
"Obviously he who sends a communication is best qualified to judge whether it should be returned for correction. If he asks the company to repeat the message, and they fail to com
Opinion of the Court.
ply, they will clearly be answerable for any injury that may result from the omission. If he does not make such a request, he may well be taken to have acquiesced in the conditions which they prescribe, and at all events cannot object to the want of a precaution he has virtually waived. It is not a just ground of complaint that the power to choose is coupled with an obligation to pay an additional sum to cover the cost of repetition." 9 Phila. 92-94; 78 Penn. St.
The judgment was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, for the reasons given by Judge Hare and above. stated. 78 Penn. St. 246; Western Union Tel. Co. v. Stevenson, 128 Penn. St. 442, 455.
In Breese v. United States Tel. Co., 48 N. Y. 132, the plaintiffs' agent wrote, at his own office in Palmyra, on one of the company's blanks, substantially like that now before us, and delivered to the company at Palmyra, a message addressed to brokers in New York, and in these words, "Buy us seven ($700) hundred dollars in gold." In the statement of facts upon which the case was submitted, it was agreed that he had never read the printed part of the blank, and that "the message thus delivered was transmitted from the office at Palmyra, as written; but, by some error of the defendant's operators working between Palmyra and New York," it was received in New York and delivered in this form, "Buy us seven thousand dollars in gold,” and the brokers accordingly bought that amount for the plaintiffs, who sold it at a loss. It was held that there was no evidence of negligence on the part of the company, and that, the message not having been repeated, the company was not liable.
In Kiley v. Western Union Tel. Co., 109 N. Y. 231, 235237, a similar decision was made, the court saying: "That a telegraph company has the right to exact such a stipulation from its customers is the settled law in this and most of the other States of the Union and in England. The authorities hold that telegraph companies are not under the obligations. of common carriers; that they do not insure the absolute and accurate transmission of messages delivered to them; that
Opinion of the Court.
they have the right to make reasonable regulations for the transaction of their business, and to protect themselves against liabilities which they would otherwise incur through the carelessness of their numerous agents, and the mistakes and defaults incident to the transaction of their peculiar business. The stipulation printed in the blank used in this case has frequently been under consideration in the courts, and has always in this State, and generally elsewhere, been upheld as reasonable." "The evidence brings this case within the terms of the stipulation. It is not the case of a message delivered to the operator, and not sent by him from his office. This message was sent, and it may be inferred from the evidence that it went so far as Buffalo, at least; and all that appears further is that it never reached its destination. Why it did not reach there remains unexplained. It was not shown that the failure was due to the wilful misconduct of the defendant, or to its gross negligence. If the plaintiff had requested to have the message repeated back to him, the failure would have been detected and the loss averted. The case is, therefore, brought within the letter and purpose of the stipulation."
In the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the reasonableness and validity of such regulations have been repeatedly affirmed. Ellis v. American Tel. Co., 13 Allen, 226; Redpath v. Western Union Tel. Co., 112 Mass. 71; Grinnell v. Western Union Tel. Co., 113 Mass. 299; Clement v. Western Union Tel. Co., 137 Mass. 463.
There are cases, indeed, in which such regulations have been considered to be wholly void. It will be sufficient to refer to those specially relied on by the learned counsel for the plaintiff, many of which, however, upon examination, appear to have been influenced by considerations which have no application to the case at bar.
Some of them were actions brought not by the sender, but by the receiver of the message, who had no notice of the printed conditions until after he received it, and could not, therefore, have agreed to them in advance. Such were New York & Washington Tel. Co. v. Dryburg, 35 Penn. St. 298;
Opinion of the Court.
Harris v. Western Union Tel. Co., 9 Phila. 88; and De la Grange v. Southwestern Tel. Co., 25 La. Ann. 383.
Others were cases of night messages, in which the whole provision as to repeating was omitted, and a sweeping and comprehensive provision substituted, by which, in effect, all liability beyond the price paid was avoided. True v. International Tel. Co., 60 Maine, 9, 18; Bartlett v. Western Union Tel. Co., 62 Maine, 209, 215; Candee v. Western Union Tel. Co., 34 Wisconsin, 471, 476; Hibbard v. Western Union Tel. Co., 33 Wisconsin, 558, 564. In Bartlett's case, the court said: "Most, if not all, the cases upon this subject refer to rules requiring the repeating of messages to insure accuracy, and seem to be justified in their conclusion on the ground that owing to the liability to error, from causes beyond the skill and care of the operator, it is but a matter of common care and prudence to have the messages repeated; the neglect of which in messages of importance, after being warned of the danger, is a want of care on the part of the sender, and, as the person sending the message is presumed to be the best judge of its importance, he must on his own responsibility make his election whether to have it repeated." 62 Maine, 216, 217.
The passage cited from the opinion of the Circuit Court of Appeals in Delaware & Atlantic Telephone Co. v. Postal Telegraph Co., 3 U. S. App. 30, 105, in which the same judge who had decided the present case in the Circuit Court said, "It is no longer open to question that telephone and telegraph companies are subject to the rules governing common carriers and others engaged in like public employment," had regard, as is evident from the context, and from the reference to Budd v. New York, 143 U. S. 517, to those rules only which require persons or corporations exercising a public employment to serve all alike, without discrimination, and which make them. subject to legislative regulation.
In Rittenhouse v. Independent Telegraph, 1 Daly, 474, and 44 N. Y. 263, and in Turner v. Hawkeye Tel. Co., 41 Iowa, 458, it does not appear that the company had undertaken to restrict its liability by express stipulation.