Helen Palsgraf was injured when a large scale on a rail road platform of the Long Island Rail Road Company fell onto her following an explosion.
On the day in question a passenger of the Long Island Rail Road was seen fumbling his way onto a passenger car with a large newspaper wrapped package under his arm. Two employees of the Rail Road company perceiving the passenger's difficulties tried to assist; one rail agent pushed the passenger from the platform, one pulled the passenger unto the car. The efforts of the Long Island Rail Road employees dislodged the package which unbeknown to them contained fireworks that exploded upon hitting the tracks beneath the passenger car. The explosion caused the scales to fall or caused passengers on the platform to jostle the scales with the same result. Mrs. Palsgraf was injured.
Mrs. Palsgraf filed suit to obtain compensation for her injuries which she won following a jury trial.
New York's highest court the Court of Appeals (1928) reversed and dismissed Mrs. Palsgraf's case. The opinion of Justice Benjamin Cardozo in the case stands as the cornerstone of American tort law. Justice Cardozo deals with the definition of the "duty of care" which he defined by "foeseeability." In otherwords, the duty of care is defined by the risk to be perceived, thus the employees of the Long Island Rail Road could not reasonably foresee that their efforts to help a struggling passenger board a departing train would jostle fireworks onto a track causing injuries to Mrs. Palsgraf standing at the other end of the platform near a scale.
Let me quote Cardozo: "the risk reasonably perceived defines the duty to be obeyed."
This definition means that not all injuries evens those that can be traced to direct or proximate cause, or wrong --are remedial under tort law.
Trivia alert, the American novelist Willliam Gaddis won the National Book Award and the American Book Award for his fourth novel, A Frolic of his Own which he said was inspired by reading Palsgraf.