Palsgraf Curse?

Palsgraf curse

Cardozo wrote the famous majority opinion in Palsgraf.

Several lawhaha visitors sent in Mark Fass’s article in the New York Law Journal about an alleged curse on the family of Helen Palsgraf, the most famous torts plaintiff in history. Every lawyer remembers Mrs. P from law school. To test this theory, visit an elderly, dying lawyer in a coma and shout “Palsgraf!” Immediately, he will recite: “A man carrying a box wrapped in newspaper boarded a train at the Long Island Railroad Station … cough, cough … ack.”

The box contained fireworks. When it was dislodged by employees of the Long Island Railroad trying to help the man on the train, the fireworks exploded, allegedly knocking a scale onto Mrs. P. Mrs. P’s saga led to the legendary, and incredibly confusing, opinions by Judge Benjamin Cardozo (that’s Cardozo in the picture–handsome fellow he was) and Judge William Andrews studied by students year in and year out at law schools great and small.

Now Fass reports that Mrs. P’s accident began a curse on the Palsgraf family, at least that’s what some of her descendants believe. One descendant fell off a ladder in 1965 and sued the manufacturer, but never made it to trial because the ladder was stolen. Another lost her thumb when a ping-pong table collapsed. A lawsuit led to a small settlement. Another descendent tripped while jogging over a broken curb, but was discouraged by lawyers from filing suit.

The most intriguing Palsfraf mishap reported by Fass involves a descendant who lost control of his truck on an icy hill in 1968. The truck slid towards the edge of cliff. Guess what saved the life of Mrs. P’s closest living relative? The truck’s wheels got caught on a track of … you guessed it, the Long Island Railroad. (Cue Twilight Zone theme.)

— Mark Fass, Palsgraf Railroad Injury Proximate Cause of Family Curse?, New York Law Journal, Dec. 10, 2004.

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Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
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