As part of its mission to preserve New York’s legal history, the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York presented its third reargument of one of the state’s most famous tort law cases – Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co.
The program, held on June 26 at the headquarters of Nassau County Bar Association, a co-sponsor, featured local lawyers, judges and governmental officials in the roles of advocates and members of the Court of Appeals. Among the 75 was Dee Owen, one of Helen Palsgraf’s granddaughters.
The case stemmed from a 1924 accident in which a man carrying a package jumped unsteadily aboard a car of a moving Long Island Railroad train at the Jamaica station.
An employee attempted to help the passenger. The package, which contained fireworks, fell on the rails and exploded. The shock from the explosion reportedly knocked down scales at the other end of the platform, injuring Ms. Palsgraf, who sued the LIRR claiming that the negligent acts of the employee caused her to be injured.
A trial court awarded her $6,000, which was upheld by the Appellate Division, Second Department. However, the Court of Appeals, led by Chief Judge Benjamin Cardozo, reversed the decision and dismissed the case, holding that the railroad owed no duty of care to Ms. Palsgraf, 162 NY 99 (1928).
The ‘judges’ at last week’s program included A. Thomas Levin of Meyer Suozzi English & Klein; Thomas A. Suozzi, Nassau County executive; Judge Susan Kluewer of Nassau District Court; Justice Ute Wolff Lally of Nassau Supreme Court; and Jonathan A. Dachs of Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer.
John P. Bracken, of Islandia-based Bracken & Margolin, argued on behalf of Ms. Palsgraf, and Eileen R. Kaufman, a professor at Touro Law Center, argued on behalf of the railroad. Former Court of Appeals Judge Albert Rosenblatt hosted the event.
The evening ended with a 3-2 decision upholding Judge Cardozo’s original ruling. Judge Kluewer and Mr. Dachs voted for Ms. Palsgraf and Justice Lally, Mr. Suozzi and Mr. Levin voted for the railroad.
The historical society’s fourth moot court-style re-enactment reargument is in the works for Albany. So far, two of the three panels have upheld Judge Cardozo.