Wednesday, March 22, 2023

The Mousetrap Game and the Duty of Care

By Sherri Stewart

Have you ever played the game called Mousetrap or made your own mousetrap? A marble travels down a slope and knocks over a row of dominoes that sets off the sway of a spoon hanging from a string…you get the idea. The tort called negligence is much like the mousetrap game in that one must prove a link between an act that caused an injury, and whether the person that caused the harm owed a duty of care to the injured party. But sometimes, like the mousetrap game, it’s not clear.

The most famous negligence case in U.S. history is Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99 (1928).The question to be decided by the court was whether the railroad company owed a duty of care to a person injured at a distance.

On a warm summer day in Brooklyn, Helen Palsgraf, along with her two daughters, stood on the platform waiting to catch a train to the beach. As another train (not hers) began to move, a man carrying a package ran to catch the train and leapt aboard, with the help of a platform guard pushing him from behind. But in the process, the man fumbled the package, which dropped and exploded, for it apparently contained fireworks. The force of the explosion caused a coin-operated scale to topple onto Helen, who stood at a distance of ten feet away. No one was hurt enough to spend the night in the hospital, though Helen was bruised, suffered from shock, and several days later began stuttering due to the trauma at the New York station.

If you watch commercials, you’re aware of negligence cases which involve automobile accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, product liability, and accidents on the job. In all these cases, the courts must prove four elements: duty, breach, causation, and harm. One of the questions always asked is whether the harm was foreseeable.

In the Palsgraf case, the court determined that although the railroad employee was negligent when he pushed the man from behind, he was not negligent to Mrs. Palsgraf because it wasn’t foreseeable that a box dropped would cause a person standing at a distance to be injured by a scale. Because of this case, limitations are placed on who can sue for damages, which frees courts from spurious lawsuits.


Your turn: Adam accepted an invitation from his friend Dot to attend a baseball game. The seats Dot had purchased were very good, a few rows up from the field, and just past first base. Adam had recently immigrated to the United States and knew nothing about baseball.

During the game, a player, Brad, hit a ground ball toward third base. The third baseman fielded the ball and threw to the first baseman. Brad thought he was “safe,” but the first base umpire called him “out.” Brad began to argue with the umpire, and in frustration, Brad threw his batting helmet to the ground. The helmet, made of a strong, plastic material, bounced on the ground and flew into the stands, striking Adam on the side of the head, causing a serious injury. Adam never saw the helmet coming towards him because he was looking around the stadium at the time rather than at the play on the field. Does Adam have a case against the team?

Selah Award finalist Sherri Stewart loves a clean novel, sprinkled with romance and a strong message that challenges her faith. She spends her working hours with books—either editing others’ manuscripts or writing her own. Her passions are traveling to the settings of her books and sampling the food. She traveled to Paris for this book, and she still works daily on her French, although she doesn’t need to since everyone speaks English. A recent widow, Sherri lives in Orlando with her lazy dog, Lily. She shares recipes, tidbits of the book’s locations, and other authors' books in her newsletter.

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Selah Award Finalist: What Hides behind the Walls

If the Nazis stole your house, wouldn’t you be justified in stealing it back now that the war is over?

When Tamar Feldman admits to her husband, Daniel, and mentor, Neelie Visser, that she broke into her former home, they scold her for taking such a risk. Tamar is tired of being careful. She’s tired of living in the present, as if the past doesn’t matter. But the painting of the violin girl in her former bedroom draws her back again and again. She finally steals the painting to return it to its former owner. Now maybe this small act of justice will help her start to heal. What Tamar doesn’t realize is the past isn’t finished with her yet; in fact, it’s as close as the walls in her house and even follows her to Paris.



  1. Thank you for posting today. You pose an interesting question, and in thinking about the scenario I'm leaning towards the team owing Adam some restitution....because there are rules not to throw bats, I think? But I also don't know about home runs being hit into the stands....I guess I'm glad I don't work in the legal field!!!

  2. You're right, Connie. It is foreseeable that a bat would fly up into the stands. Of course, in this case, it's a helmet, and that is not so foreseeable. However, the jury would probably determine that if there's a possibility of anything flying into the stands, the stadium and team would be liable for the injury to Adam. The facts said he wasn't familiar with the game, so he may not have realized that bats could fly into the stands. So like grocery stores, there should be signs of wet floors, or in this case, flying objects.

    1. Thanks! Again, I'm glad I'm not in the legal field.