Early in the morning of 28 February 1919 Mr Delaney bought a ticket to travel from Aldgate to Kings Cross on the Metropolitan Railway. He walked down to the platform, where a train was waiting with its doors open. He boarded the train but as he went to take his seat the train started without warning. Mr Delaney lost his balance and fell, trapping his hand in the door and crushing it.
He brought a claim against the Metropolitan Railway Company, arguing that their negligence had caused his injuries. He won, but the Metropolitan Railway Company appealed, arguing that the trial judge had misunderstood the law and that there was no evidence of negligence for the jury to consider.
Where is it on the map?
At point W.
Mr Delaney. The majority of the Law Lords held that a duty of care was owed and that there was sufficient evidence of negligence for the case to be put to the jury.
What's the principle of law?
As well as being an example of how the Law Lords applied their minds to the new technology of electric trains (the judgment contains much discussion about whether the word 'jerk' is a technical term), the case illustrates the differences between questions of law and questions of fact. In a jury trial, the judge will consider questions of law and the jury questions of fact. In a trial without a jury, the judge will consider both questions of law and fact. Actions for negligence are no longer heard before a jury, but the distinction between law and fact is still relevant.
The question of law here was whether the Metropolitan Railway Company had a duty to start their train in a way that would be safe for passengers who were not yet seated and/or to warn passengers who were not yet seated if the train was about to start suddenly.
The question of fact was whether the Metropolitan Railway Company had started their train in a way that was not safe for passengers who were not yet seated, like Mr Delaney. It was accepted by the Metropolitan Company that they had done nothing to warn passengers that the train was about to start.
Four out of the five Law Lords who heard the case agreed that the trial judge had considered the question of law correctly and that it was therefore correct to put the factual question to the jury. The one dissenting judge, Viscount Finlay, argued that people who used electric trains should know that they start with much less warning than a steam train and therefore no duty was owed to Mr Delaney.
What's it like today?
The Metropolitan Railway Company's line is now known as the Metropolitan Line and is operated by Transport for London. Metropolitan Line trains still run between Aldgate and Kings Cross. In the 1921 judgment, Lord Birkenhead talks about the trains travelling at about 20 miles per hour. The Metropolitan Line train I took towards Kings Cross earlier this week didn't seem to go much faster.
As Aldgate is the final stop on the eastbound Metropolitan Line, trains do tend to wait there for a while before setting off. But these days, as in other Underground stations, a pre-recorded message warns passengers when the trains are ready to depart and buzzers sound as the doors close. Maybe Mr Delaney's crushed hand was the inspiration for these safety measures?
Here are some pictures I took at Aldgate Station:
150 great things about the underground blog.