PREMIUM LEGAL RESOURCES
ASK A LAWYER
NOTABLE COURT DECISIONS RE: TORTS
Contributed by Roger Martin, 2L Student by night at Univ. of San
Diego, Patent Agent by day at [email protected]
** I. de S. and Wife v. W. de S. (1348 or 1349)
2. Facts: D. came to P.'s tavern for wine at night when it was closed
and began chopping at the door with a hatchet. P.'s wife stuck her head
out a window and ordered him to stop, "and he perceived her and struck
with the hatchet, but did not touch the woman." An inquest said "no
harm, no foul".
3. Procedural Posture: First action before a royal court at the Assizes.
4. Judges Rule: It is not necessary for physical contact to occur for an
assault to have occurred. Judgment for P..
5. Classical Holding(s): When a D. makes an attack upon a house causing
the persons inside to be placed in imminent apprehension of personal
harm, then there is assault, even if there is no physical contact to the
6. Reasoning: Although the hatchet did not strike the P., there was
still harm against P., since D. "made an assault upon the woman".
** Tuberville v. Savage (1669)
2. Facts: P. put his hand on his sword and stated to D., "If it were not
assize-time, I would not take such language from you." D. took this
language to be sufficient provocation to assault, batter and wound P..
3. Procedural Posture: First action before a royal court at the Assizes.
Convoluted posture because the issue is really the conduct of the P..
4. Judges Rule: "...if one strike another upon the hand, or arm, or
breast in discourse, it is no assault, there being no intention to
assault; but if one intending to assault, strike at another and miss
him, this is an assault..." Judgment for P..
5. Classical Holding(s): When a person intends to put another in
imminent apprehension of personal harm, there is an actionable tort of
6. Reasoning: P. explicitly stated that he would not strike D., because
it was assize-time (judges were in town). Thus there was no intention,
and there was certainly no act.
** Vosberg v. Putney (1891)
2. Facts: P. had previously injured his leg above the knee about 1 1/2
months before D. reached across the classroom aisle with his foot, and
kicked P. in the shin just below the knee. The kick was slight, however
the jury found that P. developed tissue and bone damage as a result of
the kick, by aggravating the infection originating during the previous
injury. The jury also found that D. did not mean to do P. any harm (no
3. Procedural Posture: Action to recover damages for assault and
battery. The first trial resulted in judgment for P. for $2,800. D.
appealed to this court, where the previous judgment was reversed for
error, and a new trial awarded.
4. Judges Rule: "A wrong-doer is liable for all injuries resulting
directly from the wrongful act, whether they could or could not have
been foreseen by him."
5. Classical Holding: In the absence of consent, either explicit or
implied, a person who intentionally commits a wrongful act which results
in the harmful touching of another has committed a tortious battery is
liable for damages arising from his action.
6. Reasoning: 1. Since the kick was a violation of the "order and
decorum" of the school classroom, it was unlawful, and therefore the
intention to commit it was unlawful. 2. Because the classroom had rules
of "order and decorum", and the teacher had already called the class to
order, there was no "implied license" because kicking another in the
shin is not expected behavior for the classroom.
Notes: 2. In Garrat v. Dailey, 5 yr. old D. was held liable for a
battery tort when he pulled a chair out from under an arthritic woman P.
as she was sitting down, because although he may not have intended to
injure P., he knew that P. was trying to sit. This knowledge made D.'s
act wrongful. 3. Transferred Intent: In Talmage v. Smith, D. was held
liable for battery when a stick he threw at trespassers struck a
different person, P.. Court held that intent to inflict unwarranted
injury on someone is an actionable tort when that injury is inflicted on
an unintended person. 4. O.W. Holmes stated that a person is liable for
trespass and damages of another's property, even if does the harm
because he thinks the property to be his own, because he necessarily
intended to do the harm. In Brown v. Dellinger, D.'s were held liable
for burning down a neighbor's house by starting an unauthorized fire in
P.'s garage grill, even though they did not intend the fire to get out
of the grill. 5. In Cleveland Park Club v. Perry, 9 yr. old D. put a
rubber ball into a pool drain which he mistakenly believed was not
operating suction. Court held that the intent controlling the tort was
the intent to do the act, not the intent to cause harm.
** Mohr v. Williams (1905)
2. Facts: D. is an ear surgeon who upon examination of P.'s right ear,
convinced P. to consent to submit to an operation to remove a polyp and
diseased portion of P.'s right ear. However, after P. was unconscious
from administration of anesthetics in preparation for the right ear
surgery, D. found P.'s left ear to be more in need of surgery that P.'s
right ear. He then performed a skillful and successful operation on D.'s
left ear, without the P.'s consent. P. brought a battery action against
D. to recover damages, complaining that the surgery impaired her
3. Procedural posture: Original action resulted in a verdict for P. for
$14,322.50. The trial court set aside the previous verdict and ordered a
new trial. Both parties appealed from such orders to this court.
4. Judges Rule: "...any unlawful or unauthorized touching of the person
of another, except it be in the spirit of pleasantry, constitutes an
assault and battery". 1 Jaggard, Torts, 437.
5. Classical Holding: When the circumstances surrounding a medical
procedure that requires surgery do not justify proceeding without a
patient's consent, performing said surgery without authorization is
unlawful and the surgeon is liable for damages arising from a battery
6. Reasoning: The trial court jury found that the surgery was not of an
emergent nature. Therefore, since it was unauthorized by the P., then it
was unlawful, and since it was unlawful, it was battery.
Notes: 1. Surgeons now use a consent form to avoid the dilemma in Mohr
v. Williams. 2. The consent must be to the act actually performed. 3.
Consent can also be implied by the conduct of a person. 4. In an
emergency situation, where the health of a person is endangered,
"unauthorized operation is justified under consent implied from the
circumstances". 5. Substituted consent: In general, consent of a
parent/guardian is necessary for non-emergency operations on minors and
incompetents. 6. In Belchertown State School v. Saikewicz, the court
held that the ultimate consent of performing painful and uncertain
therapy on a terminal patient who was incapable of providing his own
consent lies with the court. This stand was retreated from in Brophy v.
New England Sinai Hospital where the court allowed a family to deny an
incompetent any nutrition, even over the protests of the attending
physicians, based on the need for "honoring the privacy and dignity of
the individual". 7. Substituted consent for the benefit of others: it is
possible for a guardian to provide consent to operation on an
incompetent that will benefit another (such as for kidney transplant).
8. "Normally, the defense of consent to physical contact can be
overridden if it is shown that the consent was induced by fraud or even
by nondisclosure of some material fact."
** Canterbury v. Spence (1972)
2. Facts: Minor child, P., suffered from severe back pain that Dr., D.,
suspected was the result of a ruptured disc. D. told P. he needed a
laminectomy to correct this condition. D. told P.'s mother that the
operation was serious, but "not more than any other operation". D. later
testified that the probability of paralysis in a laminectomy was about
1% but he did not normally inform his patients of risks of this nature
so as not to deter them from undergoing necessary surgery. While
performing the surgery, D. noted that P.'s spinal cord was swollen and
in very poor condition. During the P.'s recuperation, he fell from his
bed while unattended, and thereafter experienced paralysis of the
bowels, urinary incontinence, and required crutches. P. sued D. for
negligence and failure to inform him beforehand of the risks involved.
3. Procedural posture: P. filed suit in District Court 4 yrs. after the
laminectomy. Judge granted verdicts for both D.'s for failure of P. to
provide medical evidence of negligence. P. appealed and this court
reversed and remanded for new trial.
4. Judges Rule: "True consent to what happens to one's self is the
informed exercise of a choice, and that entails an opportunity to
evaluate knowledgeably the options available and the risks attendant
5. Classical Holding: In order for a patient to properly consent to a
surgery, the physician must disclose to the patient what risks
associated with the surgery are reasonable to disclose under the
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that "every human being of adult years
and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own
body". The nature of the physician-patient relationship demands that the
physician volunteer this information, even without the patient asking.
They further reasoned that a 1% chance of such a grave consequence as
paralysis was reasonable to disclose, and a hypothetical reasonable
patient would likely consider that information as significant when
making his decision of whether or not to consent to the operation.
Notes: 1. When remanded, the case was once again decided for D.. 2.
British cases have repudiated the burden that Canterbury put on
physicians. 3. In Mink v. University of Chicago, the court held that a
battery claim was proper (as opposed to negligence) because the P.'s
were subjected to medical experiments without their knowledge, therefore
the issue of implied consent was meaningless. 4. In Kozup v. Georgetown
University (1987), the court held that the risk of contracting AIDS from
a blood transfusion was not material in 1983. They further held that the
P. failed to demonstrate that the disclosure of the risk of AIDS would
have prevented the transfusion. 6. Disclosure for non-treatment: In
Truman v. Thomas, it was held that when a patient refuses a risk-free
treatment, the physician has the additional duty to inform the patient
of any risks of non-treatment. 7. In Bly v. Rhoads, the court held that
a patient-plaintiff suing for lack of informed consent must provide
expert medical witnesses to testify what should have been disclosed. 8.
** Hudson v. Craft (1949)
2. Facts: P. is an 18 yr. old boy who, upon the promise of receiving 5
dollars, stepped into an illegal prize-fight at a carnival, where he
suffered personal injuries as the result of being struck by his
opponent. P. then sues D.'s, the illegal prize fight promoter, and his
opponent, for battery damages.
3. Procedural posture: P. is appealing a judgment of dismissal. The
dismissal occurred because of P.'s failure to amend his complaint after
demurrer thereto by D. was sustained, and the judge gave P. permission
to amend his complaint.
4. Judges Rule: When two parties engage in consentual combat, their
consent "prevents an invasion from being tortious and, therefore,
actionable, although the invasion assented to constitutes a crime". 2.
"The promoter is liable where he conducts boxing matches or prize fights
without a license and in violation of the statutory provisions ..., and
that the consent of the combatants does not relieve him of that
5. Classical Holding: 1. Consentual participants in an illegal prize
fight are barred from collecting damages due to injuries sustained
during the fight. 2. The promoter of an illegal prize fight is liable
for damages as compensation for the possible injuries of consenting
participants in the illegal fight.
6. Reasoning: 1. Based on the Restatement of torts section 60. 2. The
court reasoned that it is from the illegal conduct of the promoter that
the fighters are protected under the Restatement of torts section 61,
where the assent of a person to a invasion of which he cannot appreciate
the consequences is not consent thereto. The history of the rules of
boxing in California suggest that those rules intend to protect the
Notes: 2. Volenti non fit injuria - the volunteer suffers no wrong. Ex
turpi causa non oritur actio, no action shall arise out of an improper
or immoral cause. 3. In Hackbart v. Cincinnati Bengals, Hackbart, a
football player, suffered injuries from a deliberate and wrongful blow
to the back of the head by an opposing player. The court of appeals said
that there is no reason that the roughness of football should excuse
tortious actions on the part of a player, especially when those actions
are contrary to the prescribed rules of the game. Similar ruling was
upheld in Nabonzy v. Barnhill where a high-school soccer goalie was
kicked in the head intentionally. In Turcotte v. Fell, it was held that
the known, apparent and foreseeable dangers of a sport, in this case
recklessness of another horse jockey, was not cause for action, as
distinguished from Nabonzy and Hackbart.
** McGuire v. Almy (1937)
2. Facts: P. was a nurse at a mental institute, in direct care of D.,
who was known to have occasional violent outbursts. On the night of the
alleged battery, D. ransacked her room and threatened P. that if she
came in, D. would kill her. P. called for additional people to help, and
then entered D.'s room. D. then hit P. over the head with the leg of a
3. Procedural posture: An action of tort for assault and battery.
Original trial court.
4. Judges Rule: "...where an insane person by his act does intentional
damage to the person or property of another he is liable for that damage
in the same circumstances in which a normal person would be liable."
5. Classical Holding: When insane people act upon an intent to cause a
harmful or offensive contact with another, they are liable for the
damage they cause according to the same principles that govern battery
committed by sane people.
6. Reasoning: The court avoided the question of determining the nature
and extent of the D.'s mental illness in order to determine fault,
stating that for this case it was only necessary to determine if the D.
actually intended to do harm to the P.. They reasoned that holding an
insane person liable for his tortious actions would motivate his
guardians to keep a close eye on him, because the same money he used for
his medical care could also be used to pay for his liabilities. In this
way, the courts provide an effective deterrent against battery by insane
people, even though the insane person necessarily acts irrationally.
Notes: In Polmatier v. Russ an insane man who murdered his father-in-
law was held liable for an intentional tort, because although he was
being irrational in his reasons for committing the act, it was
intentional. It would not have been intentional if it were shown to be a
reflexive or epileptic act beyond his will.
** Courvoisier v. Raymond (1896)
2. Facts: D. was sleeping upstairs from a jewelry store that he owned,
when several intruders attempted to gain entry to an adjoining room
where his daughter slept. D. chased the intruders into the street with a
gun, where they were joined by others. He fired some shots in the air to
frighten them, but instead they began to throw things at him. A nearby
police officer, P., came over to break up the fighting, and D.,
allegedly thinking P. was one of the rioters, purposefully shot P..
3. Procedural posture: In trial court, judgment was for P.. D. appealed.
4. Judges Rule: If a person reasonably believes that his life is in
danger, or that he is in danger of receiving great bodily harm, then he
is not liable for damages he causes in self-defense.
5. Classical Holding: While actively defending themselves from rioters,
if people intentionally shoot and wound an innocent person because they
reasonably believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm or death
from that person, their actions are justified by self-defense and
therefore they are not liable for damages.
6. Reasoning: The court of appeals reasoned that the lower court was
errant in it's jury instructions, which demanded a verdict for P. if
they found that P. was not actually assaulting D. at the time of the
shooting. The court of appeals stated that aside from actual assault,
the defendant would be justified in his actions if it could be shown, in
light of the circumstances, that a reasonable person would have believed
himself in imminent danger of bodily harm.
Notes: 1. "The Restatement (Second) of Torts takes no position on the
question of whether the privilege of self-defense is available against
an assailant whose conduct is neither wrongful nor negligent." 2. "In
Morris v. Platt, the court held that the accidental harming of an
innocent bystander by force reasonably intended in self-defense to repel
an attack by a third party is not actionable. "
** M'Ilvoy v. Cockran (1820)
2. Facts: D. owns a fence that P. was tearing down by actual force. In
protection of his property, D. "used sufficient force in repelling [P.]
to wound him severely."
3. Procedural posture: In trial court, the judge refused to enter into
the jury instructions a plea from the D. that if it was found that D.
was defending his real property against P., then verdict should be for
D.. After verdict for P., D. moved for a new trial which motion was
overruled and judgment entered for P.. This court affirmed.
4. Judges Rule: "A wounding cannot be justified barely in defense of
5. Classical Holding: When solely in defense of personal property, a
person employs force sufficient to wound the attacker, he is liable for
6. Reasoning: The court stated that force can be employed to repel
actual force in the defense of personal property, and force may even be
employed where the attacker is only employing constructive or implied
force and continues his attack when first asked to desist. However,
there was no allegation of a personal assault by P. in this case, so a
wounding was not justified, and the trial court was correct in refusing
the entry to the jury instructions that was asked for by D..
** Bird v. Holbrook (1825)
2. Facts: D. owns a walled garden where he raises expensive tulips.
After being robbed once, he surrounding his garden with a trip wire
activated spring gun to protect it from intruders. D. intentionally did
not place notice of the spring gun, because he wanted it to shoot the
intruder. P. volunteered to retrieve a runaway pea-hen that had wandered
into D.'s garden, and so climbed the high wall, and entered the garden
where he tripped the wire and was shot in the knee by the spring gun.
3. Procedural posture: This is an English case, first action.
4. Judges Rule: A person who intentionally uses sufficient force to
wound a trespasser, solely in protection of his property, with the
express purpose of doing injury, is liable for battery.
5. Classical Holding: Where people give no deterrent notice to potential
trespassers of the intentionally injurious traps that they have set
solely to protect their property from trespassers, and that trap injures
a trespasser who is not actually assaulting them or their family, they
are liable for damages.
6. Reasoning: The defense plead that the P. was immune from liability
under the doctrine of "Violenti non fit injuria" [the volunteer suffers
no wrong], since the P. was a willful trespasser on the D.'s property.
However, the court reasoned that it is "inhuman to catch a man by means
which may maim him or endanger his life", and that since the D. set the
traps solely for the purpose of inflicting injury to trespassers, it was
a wrongful act.
Notes: 1. In Katko v. Briney, (1971), an Iowa farmer set a shotgun trap
in a boarded-up storage house that he owned, and the shotgun injured a
thief in the legs. The thief sued and the Iowa state supreme court
awarded damages and punitive damages (thus profiting from his crime). 2.
Restatement (Second) of Torts section 85 states that an actor is
privileged to use force that would cause serious bodily injury for the
purposes of protecting his land or chattels, and is not liable , if the
intrusion is of the nature that the actor would be justified in using
such force were he actually present. Furthermore in section 143 provides
that a private person may, in order to prevent a felony, use force which
is "not intended to cause death or serious bodily harm", as long as
lesser means would not work. But, in the case where the felony threatens
bodily harm or is breaking and entering a dwelling place, then the actor
may use force "intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily
** Kirby v Foster (1891)
2. Procedural Posture: The trial jury returned a verdict for P., and the
D. moved for a new trial on exceptions to the rulings and refusals of
the presiding justice to make ruling.
3. Facts: P. was a bookkeeper for a corporation in which D. was an
agent. $50 was deducted from P.'s pay for money that he was responsible
for that was lost. D. gave payroll money to P. who pocketed the $50 he
thought he was due, and tried to leave. A scuffle ensued and the P. was
injured by D. during the fight to retrieve the money.
4. Judges Rule: "...the right of property merely, not joined with
possession, will not justify the owner in committing an assault and
battery upon the person in possession, for the purpose of regaining
possession, although the possession is wrongfully withheld." Bliss v.
5. Classical Holding: When people honestly although mistakenly withhold
money from their employers in the normal course of business, without
fraud or deception, thinking it to be their own, the employer who
employs force to regain the money is liable for battery.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that since the P. honestly thought that
the money was due him, and peaceably took it during the normal course of
business, that the use of force by the D. was not justified because it
was redressive and not defensive in nature.
7. Policy: Although this law may cause inconvenience to individuals from
time to time, the underlying principle is that the "injured party cannot
be the arbiter of his own claim". Public order and peace are of greater
Notes: 1. Repossession by a secured party of collateral after default is
permitted "if this can be done without breach of the peace". The
privilege of recapture must be exercised promptly "hot-pursuit".
** Ploof v. Putnam (1908)
2. Procedural Posture: The trial court ruled for P., and D. demurred to
the count of willful unmooring, and negligence of duty.
3. Facts: P. and family were sailing their sloop on Lake Champlain when
a violent storm erupted. In order to take refuge from the storm, P.
moored to the D.'s dock, whereupon D.'s servant unmoored the sloop. The
sloop was then grounded and smashed in the storm, casting the P. and
family into the lake, where they received injuries.
4. Judges Rule: An actor is not liable for trespass when he enters
another's land due to necessity caused by inability to control his
movements while exercising a strict right.
5. Classical Holding: People are not liable for trespass when they moor
their vessels to the dock of another without permission if they do so in
order to save life and property from a violent storm.
6. Reasoning: The court cited several cases to support it's rule, each
dealing with the concept of the doctrine of necessity. Examples given
were when a dog chased sheep from a defendants land, but being the
nature of a dog to continue the chase, pursued the sheep onto another's
property. Also, a traveler may walk on another's land when the highway
is blocked, in order to avoid the obstruction. Finally, it was held that
a defendant was not personally liable when he jettisoned a casket from a
barge during a storm in order to lighten the load and save the
** Vincent v. Lake Erie Transportation Co. (1910)
2. Procedural Posture: An action for damages to a dock. Trial court held
for P., dock owner. D. appealed to this court.
3. Facts: D. owns a cargo ship that was moored to P.'s dock under
contract to unload cargo, when a violent storm arose. The D., exercising
prudent seamanship, remained moored to the dock, and the action of the
waves caused his hull to repeatedly collide with the dock, resulting in
$500 damage to the dock.
4. Judges Rule: Where a person "prudently and advisedly avails himself
of [another's] property for the purpose of preserving is own more
valuable property" then he is liable for damages to the other's
5. Classical Holding: Where a person "prudently and advisedly avails
himself of [another's] property for the purpose of preserving is own
more valuable property" then he is liable for damages to the other's
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that since the boat owner
"deliberately and with direct efforts" kept his boat moored, replacing
the lines that parted with heavier ones, that he should be liable
because although he had necessity, this did not excuse him from having
to pay for damages for sacrificing the dock to save his own property.
7. Dissent: The dissent reasoned that the damage was an Act of God, and
that under the majorities' reasoning, there would have been no liability
if the boat owner had initially tied up with his strongest ropes. This
reasoning would put the burden on the ship owner to have anticipated the
severity of the storm in order to avoid liability, or to always tie up
with the strongest cables. They further reasoned that the risk for
damage of this nature was assumed by the dock owner as an ordinary risk
of this type of business.
Notes: 1. The doctrine of "incomplete privilege": a defendant may cause
harm but only on condition that he pay for it. This arises in a case of
necessity where there is no assumption of risk. 2. Unjust enrichment:
this theory would require the boat owner to pay because he came away
unscathed at the expense of the dock owner. This theory, however, only
works when the property protected is worth more than the property
damaged. 3. Under admiralty law, the doctrine of necessity prevents a
salvor from holding out for a fee equal to the value of the vessel in
distress, but rather holds them to the customary fee. 4. Public
necessity: a public official may act with immunity if he takes
reasonable actions in good faith that destroy a person's property in
order to benefit the public at large. Examples are tearing down houses
in the path of a fire in order to save other houses, damage to car paint
while spraying pesticides to kill the Medfly, tearing down an oil
refinery to deny a wartime enemy from bombing it.
** Brown v. Kendall (1850)
2. Procedural Posture: An action for damages of trespass. Trial court
held for P.. D. appealed to this court.
3. Facts: Two dogs were fighting in the presence of P. and D.. D. was
attempting to break up the dog fight by hitting them with a big stick.
P., who was behind D., got too close to D., who hit P. in the eye with
the stick as he was backing away from the dogs and swinging the stick.
4. Judges Rule: If while performing a lawful act, an person injures
another purely "by accident", then the actor is not liable.
5. Classical Holding: An actor is not liable for injury to another when
the actor 1) does not intend to cause harmful or offensive touching of
the other, or does not have substantial knowledge that his actions would
cause damage to another, and 2) the actor could not have avoided damage
to the other by using reasonable care.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned if the D. was not unlawful in his
attempt to break up the dog fight, and if he was exercising due care at
the time of the injury, then he could not be held liable. They further
stated that the burden of proof in this case should lie with the P..
** Fletcher v. Rylands (1865).
2. Procedural Posture: Action of trespass. Several arguments back and
forth between the appellate justices, this one at Exchequer.
3. Facts: D. owns a reservoir above a mine shaft belonging to P.. D.
hired engineers to build the reservoir, and they did, exercising proper
professional care. The soil under the reservoir was weak from previous
coal removal, and the water broke through the shafts and filled up the
P.'s mine. P. sued for damages.
4. Judges Rule: An actor is liable for trespass when his actions result
in the damage to another's property, even though his actions were lawful
and he had no intention to cause damage, nor any knowledge that his
actions would cause damage.
5. Classical Holding: When a person who lawfully builds a water
reservoir on his land, and the water thereafter escapes and does damage
to another's property, the person is strictly liable for the damage
caused by the escaped water.
6. Reasoning: Judge Bramwell reasoned that the knowledge or intent to do
wrong in this case was irrelevant, because to hold otherwise would be to
say that the P. only has the right to have his mine free from water that
was deposited there by those who knew what they were doing.
7. Dissent: (Martin) The dissent reasoned that to hold the D. strictly
liable for the water escaping from his properly and lawfully built
reservoir would be to cause him to need to insure against a lawful act
on his own property from which he had no reason to believe that any
damage was likely to ensue.
** Fletcher v. Rylands (1866).
2. Procedural Posture: Further review of the previous appellate
3. Facts: As stated above.
4. Judges Rule: (Blackburn) "...the person who for his own purposes
brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do
mischief if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and, if he does
not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the
natural consequence of its escape."
5. Classical Holding: Same as above.
6. Reasoning Judge Blackburn reasoned that the damage would not have
happened had the D. not brought the water onto his land. In addition,
the D. should have known that if the water were to escape, it could
cause damage. There was no implied consent under these circumstances
because the P. had no knowledge or control over how the D. would use
their land. Therefore the D. would be liable unless the occurrence was
an Act of God.
** Rylands v. Fletcher (1868)
2. Procedural Posture: Review of the previous decision at the House of
3. Facts: Same as above.
4. Judge's Rule: (Cairns) If a person uses his land for any "non-
natural" purpose of storing water, and the water escapes and does damage
to another's property, then he is liable.
5. Classical Holding: Same as above.
6. Reasoning: The reservoir was a non-natural collection of water upon
the D.'s land, as opposed to natural collection of water in some natural
lake. Due to this non-natural use, the water escaping was due solely to
his act, although not negligent, whereas water escaping from a natural
lake could not have been his liability.
Notes: 3. In Rickards v. Lothian, a person entered a building at night,
shoved stuff into the lavatory drain, and then turned on the water which
overflowed and caused damage. The court held that there was not
liability because the water use was not non-natural in the sense that
most buildings in the area had lavatories. 4. In Nichols v. Marsland,
overflow from man-made pools due to heavy and unanticipated rainfall was
considered to be and Act of God, and so there was no liability. It was
also held in Carstairs v. Taylor that the liability is not present if
the storage of water was for mutual benefit. 6. The rigor of Ryland v.
Fletcher was retreated from in personal injury cases, and negligence was
held to be controlling. 8. Rylands v. Fletcher appears to accord more
protection to personal property than against personal injury.
** Brown v. Collins, (1873)
2. Procedural Posture: Unknown
3. Facts: (Unclear) D. had horses on his property which, upon being
frightened, ran onto the neighbor's property and broke a post.
4. Judge's Rule: In order for a person to be liable for trespass
damages, he must be guilty of some "malice, or unreasonable
unskillfulness or negligence".
5. Classical Holding: When horses are frightened into stampede, and thus
beyond the reasonable care and control of their owner, and the horses
trespass onto another's property, the owner is not liable for the
6. Reasoning: Here the court rejected Blackburn's and Cairn's opinions
in Rylands, stating that they were not in keeping with the concepts of
progress and improvement. The court argued that anything could be
construed to be capable of causing damage upon escape from a person's
property, and that the only truly natural use of property was to leave
it in it's native state. The court further said that a person in modern
society had "relative" and not absolute rights.
Notes: 1. In Losee v. Buchanan, a person was held not liable when his
boiler exploded and ignited the house of another, by reasoning of
"implied compensation" - that he has already profited from the general
good provided by boilers, and civilization in general, in which he
shares. The doctrine of "reciprocity". In Turner v. Big Lake Oil,
Ryland was held to be not-applicable because the nature of oil drilling
in Texas made large salt-water storage reservoirs a necessity.
** Stone v. Bolton (1950)
2. Facts: P. is an old woman who was walking on a street that bordered a
Cricket field, when she was struck by a well hit ball. It was one of the
longest hit balls ever recorded at that field, and there had only been a
few balls hit over the fence in the last 30 seasons. P. sued the home
cricket club and all of its members claiming negligence in setting up
the field, not making the wall high enough and otherwise not ensuring
that the balls remained in the field.
3. Procedural Posture: At trial court, judgment was for D. on both
counts. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding for P. on the claim of
4. Judges Rule: A person is liable for a reasonably foreseeable risk
which he does not protect against and which results in injury to
5. Classical Holding: A person is liable for negligence when he does not
take reasonable precautions to prevent a reasonably foreseeable risk
which results in injury to another.
6. Reasoning: There had been 6 to 10 balls hit over the fence in the
last 30 years, and although it was highly unlikely to happen on any one
pitch, a ball was eventually going to go over the fence again, and so
the risk was foreseeable. They further reasoned that it was unreasonable
to require the persons who were walking along the road to assume the
risk of being hit by a ball themselves.
** Bolton v. Stone (1951)
2. Facts: Same as above.
3. Procedural Posture: After judgment for P. in Court of Appeals, it was
brought to House of Lords, this court.
4. Judges Rule: A person is not liable for negligence when he takes all
precautions that a reasonable man would take in the same circumstances
to prevent damage likely to arise from his actions.
4. Classical Holding: A person is liable for negligence when he does not
take precautions that a reasonable man would take under the same
circumstances to prevent damage to others that would likely result from
5. Reasoning: The court stated that foreseeability is not the only
standard which applies. They also required taking into account all of
the circumstances involved in the degree of the risk including: the
likelihood of damage and extent of damage should it occur. They stated
that these considerations together did not cause a reasonable man to do
anything differently in this case.
Notes: 1. The P. had a choice of suing 3 possible D.'s: the batsman who
hit the ball, the visiting team he played for, or the owner of the home
team. She would have to sue the batsman under strict liability, and the
visiting team under vicarious liability. 2. In the absence of strict
liability, there can still be "ethical compensation" where the person
who is under no legal liability might still feel obligated to offer some
measure of compensation to the injured party. 3. The tort theory of
Corrective Justice, where the purpose of the legal system is
rectification or redress to restore injured parties to their original
state, supports both strict liability and negligence theories. In strict
liability, it is sufficient to make a prima facie case of "causation"
without regards to "responsibility". In negligence, the argument must be
that the P. must show that the D. performed an "act of injustice";
something "wrongful". Thus, in negligence, we need to show not only that
the P. should be compensated, but that he should be compensated by D..
4. Economic efficiency theory: rights of injured victims to recover
should be determined by the costs involved in establishing and enforcing
those rights. Thus, to minimize costs, the risk should be placed on the
person who can most easily avoid it.
** Hammontree v. Jenner (1971)
2. Facts: The D. was driving home from work when he had an epileptic
seizure and crashed through the front of the bike store where P. was
working, and caused bodily injury to P., and damages to the store. The
D. was on medication for his epilepsy, and driving on a probationary
license which required him to submit to tests at 6 mo. intervals for a
doctor to certify, in writing, his fitness to drive. The D.'s doctor
testified that he believed it was safe to drive under the medication.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court returned judgment for D.. P.
appealed, contending that the trial court was in error in refusing to
grant summary judgment on the issue of liability, and refusing to give
the jury the instructions they prepared which stated that an epileptic
is strictly liable for damages to an innocent person that arise from a
seizure while he is driving a car. P. withdrew a negligence claim and
stood solely on the strict liability claim.
4. Judge's Rule: A driver who is suddenly stricken by an illness
rendering him unconcious, and who thereafter causes damages to a third
party, is liable for those damages only when he is negligent in his
actions to prevent such damages.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judges.
6. Reasoning: The court cited the holdings of several previous cases,
and reasoned that to judge for P. would override the established law of
the state, and cause chaos in insurance settlements. In addition, they
rejected P.'s analogy to the strict liability involved in product
liability cases. They stated that the jury instructions were properly
disallowed because, besides covering the case where an epileptic had
knowledge of a possible risk, they covered the case of a driver being
stricken by a condition of which he had no prior knowledge.
** Helling v. Carey (1974)
2. Facts: The P. consulted the D., an opthamologist, for a period of 10
years in which she complained of eye irritation from contact lenses. The
D. tested P. for glaucoma when P. was 32, after she complained of
impaired peripheral vision. The test was positive, and the P. suffered a
permanent loss of vision because the disease had run too long. P. sued
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court and Court of Appeals both found
for D. based on lack of showing of negligence, because it was common
practice not to perform the glaucoma test on patients under 40. P. then
petitioned to this court.
4. Judges Rule: The reasonable standard of care that should have been
followed under the facts of this case was the timely giving of the
glaucoma test, and that in failing to do so, the D. was negligent.
5. Classical Holding: When a person is consults an opthamologist over
several years, and is not tested for glaucoma because, in the
profession, his age group is not normally tested for glaucoma, and the
person later loses sight as a result of the glaucoma which could have
been detected by a simple, safe test, the opthamologist is liable for
damages for negligence.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that common practice in the profession
is not the absolute measure of negligence. "...There are precautions so
imperative that even their universal disregard will not excuse their
omission". The court took an active role in requiring the test because
it was simple, safe, and the consequences of not performing the test
were very severe and should not be borne solely by the P.. A concurring
opinion reasoned that the true measure here was one of strict liability,
Notes: 1. Helling provoked a swift statutory response, providing common
practice as the absolute standard of due care, therefore requiring
negligence. In common law, the standard is similar. 2. The standard of
custom in physician malpractice is needed because courts do not have the
training to determine what is reasonable, and because it would generate
too many unfounded lawsuits.
R. Keeton and J. O'Connell, Basic Protection for the Traffic Victim
Summary: Compensation of an injured party is a shifting of loss from the
P. to the D.. The costs of litigation involved in a tort case are
tremendous and the overall bottom line is a monetary net loss unless the
advantages of the decision outweigh the costs involved in the
litigation. Thus, an award for compensation should not be made unless
there are more valuable reasons than mere compensation. "Otherwise, the
award will be an arbitrary shifting of loss from one person to another
at a net loss to society due to the economic and sociological costs of
I. Strict liability
A. Imposed to make the D. internalize the costs imposed on others.
1. Making the actor bear the costs as if he were the injured party.
B. Eliminates the need to determine "standard of care".
1. Reduces litigation costs in individual cases, however
2. Gives incentives for more lawsuits - raising costs.
A. Imposed to make the P. internalize costs for accidents that he
would not have avoided had he been the actor
1. Because the cost of avoidance would outweigh the cost of injury in
view of the minimal chance of risk (diminishing returns).
2. P. cannot say that the D. did anything "wrong" because he would
have taken only the same precautions under like circumstances.
B. Requires determination of "standard of care" or "reasonableness".
1. Increases litigation costs in individual cases.
2. Reduces number of lawsuits because the costs of litigation usually
outweigh the compensation for injury.
I. STANDARD NEGLIGENCE ACTION
1. D. owed P. a duty or obligation to conform his conduct to a
standard necessary to prevent the unreasonable risk of harm to others.
1. D. did not meet the appropriate standard of care.
1. D.'s failure to meet the appropriate standard of care was causally
connected to the P.'s harm.
1. The property damage or personal injury was caused by D.'s breach
** Vaughan v. Menlove (1837)
2. Facts: D. made a dangerous haystack near the boundary of D.'s and
P.'s properties. After being warned several times about the risk of fire
associated with the haystack, D. said that "he would chance it." D.'s
haystack spontaneously caught fire, and the fire spread to the P.'s
property, totally destroying two cottages belonging to P.
3. Procedural Posture: Judgment was for P. in trial court, and D.
appealed on the grounds that the jury was improperly instructed to judge
D.'s actions by the standard of care of the ordinary person. Rather, D.
contested, in determining his negligence, he should be judged only on
his own bona fide best judgment.
4. Judge's Rule: 1. A person must enjoy his property so as not to injure
that of another. 2. In determining negligence, it is the standard of
care of a man of ordinary prudence that must be followed.
5. Classical Holding: When a person disregards the ordinary standard of
care in keeping flammables on his property, and a fire ensues due to his
lack of ordinary care, he is liable for fire damages to the property of
another that arise directly from his negligence.
6. Reasoning: To hold each individual to his own standard of care in
determining negligence would be too vague to be practically enforceable.
In this case, the D. had repeated warnings, which he disregarded, and so
he was aware of the standard of care necessary. It was his disregard of
these warnings that led to the fire and ensuing damages.
Holmes, The Common Law
I. Standard of Care
A. Ordinary care of the average man
a) in society, a certain average conduct is required to ensure the
a) a below-average person acts at his own peril at all times, even
though he may not be morally blameworthy.
b) an ordinary person acts at his own peril when he fails to
exercise proper foresight, or has evil intent.
B. Exceptions to ordinary care of the average man
a) a person with distinct defects which prevent taking certain types
of precautions should not be held accountable for not taking them.
a) a blind man will not be held accountable for failing to take a
precaution which required sight.
** Roberts v. Ring (1919)
2. Facts: P. is a 7 Yr old who jumped out from behind a buggy and
crossed the street suddenly in front of D.'s car. D. is a 77 Yr old with
sight and hearing impairments, who was traveling at 4-5 mph when he hit
D. P. states that he saw D. just before impact.
3. Procedural Posture: D.'s father brought the suit for damages. Trial
court found for D.. D. claims boy was negligent, P. claims error.
4. Judge's Rule: "When one, by his acts or omissions causes injury to
others, his negligence is to be judged by the standard of care usually
exercised by the ordinarily prudent man."
5. Classical Holding: When a person hits and injures a child with his
car, he is negligent and liable for damages if he has not acted with the
standard of care usually exercised by the ordinary man, unless he
suffers from physical defects which prevent his taking those ordinary
precautions required to avoid harm to the victim.
6. Reasoning: The driver was negligent in either one of two ways. Either
he was not paying attention closely enough to avoid injuring the child,
or he did not stop quickly enough if he did actually see the child.
Further, the court reasoned that the child had no contributory
negligence, because in such a situation, he was only required to
exercise the precautions of self-protection that an ordinary 7 Yr old
would exercise in the same circumstances.
Notes: 2. A beginner might be held to a lower standard of care in some
beneficial activities than an expert would for 2 policy reasons: 1) it
encourages more beginners to take up the particular beneficial action,
and 2) a uniform standard of care would not provide incentive for an
expert to use as much care as he may know to be prudent, because any
increment over the uniform standard would be not cost effective.
** Daniels v. Evans (1966)
2. Facts: P. is the father of a deceased 19 Yr old youth who was riding
a motorcycle when he collided with D.'s automobile.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for P., and D. appealed,
contending that the standard of care required by the 19 Yr old
motorcycle driver should have been that required of the ordinary adult,
and not that of the average 19 Yr old.
4. Judge's Rule: When a minor drives an automobile or similar power
driven device, he is held to the standard of care of the ordinary adult.
5. Classical Holding: When a minor drives an automobile, he assumes
liability for damages resulting from his negligence as measured by the
standard of care of the ordinary adult in the same circumstances.
6. Reasoning: An automobile is such a potentially dangerous thing that
to hold minors to a lesser standard of care would be at risk to the
general welfare. Driving an auto requires a great amount more care than
most activities undertaken by children, and so should not be judged
according to the standard of care that would apply to those less
Notes: 1. In Goss v. Allen, the supreme court held that a 17 Yr old
skier should be held to a youth standard for negligence, distinguishing
on the basis that skiing required no license. The dissent stated that
there are many potentially dangerous activities that are not licensed
which result in severe injuries. 2. There is some argument for a double-
standard of conduct - a higher one for defendants and a more relaxed one
for plaintiffs. However, cases have generally moved towards a single
** Breunig v. American Family Insurance Co. (1970)
2. Facts: D. was driving her car when she had a sudden mental delusion
that caused her to lose control, thinking that God had taken over the
steering wheel. D. thought she could fly over P.'s oncoming truck like
Batman, but unfortunately, they collided. D.'s had a history of
delusion, and thought she was on a mission from God to survive the
impending end of the world.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial jury returned a verdict finding D. causally
negligent on the theory that she had advance notice that she was
susceptible to such delusions.
4. Judge's Rule: A person struck by sudden mental incapacity which
prevents them from exercising due care, but of which they had advanced
warning, is liable for negligence.
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The court avoided the question of an insane person's
negligence, and simply stated that a sudden mental affliction should be
treated the same as any other sudden illness, such as a heart attack.
They reasoned that since the D. believed that God wanted her to survive,
that it was foreseeable that God would one day take control of her car,
thus she had advanced notice, and was negligent in operating the car in
the first place.
** Fletcher v. City of Aberdeen (1959)
2. Facts: P. is a blind man who was using his cane to walk down the
street in the vicinity of some city construction. A city worker had
posted barricades around the construction, but later removed them for
ease of work and never replaced them. P. was injured as a result of not
encountering any barricades to protect him from the construction.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for P. D. appealed contending
error in the jury instructions for refusal to instruct as they requested
that the city did not have a higher degree of care required just because
the P. was blind.
4. Judge's Rule: The city is required to provide protection to a degree
that would give a disabled person notice of the dangers to be
5. Classical Holding: A person is required to use the degree of
protection which would bring notice of the possible dangers to any
potential victim who might be physically inflicted and therefore unable
to exercise care on his own behalf.
6. Reasoning: The city should have known that blind persons were likely
to use the street, and that their only reasonable means of avoiding
obstacles was by use of a cane. Thus, the city was negligent in not
providing a barricade for a blind person to ward him of the dangers he
could not see.
** Robinson v. Pioche, Bayerque & Co. (1855)
2. Facts: A drunk P. stumbled into an open hole in front of his house,
dug by D.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for D., P. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: A person who leaves an unmarked hole in a public area,
and provides no protection to prevent pedestrians from falling into it,
is liable for damages for negligence even if the victim is drunk.
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that a drunk man is as much entitled to
a safe street as a sober one, and much more in need of it.
** Denver & Rio Grande R.R. v. Peterson (1902)
2. Facts: Unknown
3. Procedural Posture: Unknown.
4. Judge's Rule: The care required of a person is the same whether he is
rich or poor.
5. Classical Holding: Same as above.
6. Reasoning: To hold that the degree of care required were related to
wealth would create a sliding rule that would be impractical to enforce.
Wealth alone has no bearing on the standard of care of the ordinary
7. Policy: To deter someone, you must give adequate penalty of
negligence to cause the actor to consider the cost/benefit analysis of
** Smith v. Lampe (1933)
2. Facts: Appellant lived on the shores of Lake Erie. One winter
afternoon, he heard a tug and barge heading toward the shore, so he
attempted to warn them off by blowing his car's horn. Appellee is the
owner of the barge, which was being led into port by the tug. The tug
captain misinterpreted the automobile's horn as being fog signals from a
launch at the port's entry signaling them to proceed.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for barge owner.
4. Judge's Rule: "...reasonable anticipation of injury is important only
in the determination of negligence, while the natural course of events
is the test of required causation..."
5. Classical Holding: A person who has a reasonable anticipation that
his act will cause injury to another is liable for damages.
6. Reasoning: The appellant had no knowledge of fog signals or boats. He
had no means of knowing that his car horn signals might be
misinterpreted by the tug. Therefore, he could not have had any
knowledge that what he did would be reasonably expected to cause an
** Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works (1856)
2. Facts: D. is a water company who installed a water main near the P.'s
house. During the severest frost on record, the ice build-up in the plug
caused the water main to burst and sent water into the home of D. The
ice had been visible on the surface for some time before the accident.
3. Procedural Posture: The Trial court judge instructed the jury that if
the ice had been removed from the plug, the accident would not have
happened, and so found for P. D. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: People are negligent if they omit doing something which
a reasonable man, guided by the considerations which regulate the
conduct of human affairs, would do.
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: A reasonable man would have taken precautions to avoid
accidents brought about by the normal frost seasons. The fact that the
cause of the accident was not discovered until months after the accident
occurred is evidence of how remote the likelihood of the accident was.
In addition, the D. was not bound to keep the plugs free of ice.
** Eckert v. Long Island R.R. (1871)
2. Facts: P. was waiting for D.'s train which was approaching when he
noticed a young child sitting on the tracks. The P. ran across the
tracks, pushed the child out of danger, and was then hit by the train.
The P. died of his injuries. Witnesses put the speed of D.'s train at
3. Procedural Posture: In trial court, D. moved for non-suit, claiming
contributory negligence by P. Jury returned a verdict for P., which was
affirmed at the Supreme Court level. D. then appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: One who knowingly and voluntarily places oneself in a
position in which one is liable to receive serious injury is not
negligent if one has done so in order to save a life, unless such
actions would be considered imprudent by a reasonable person under the
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The P. had only an instant to act, or the child would have
died. Furthermore, it was reasonable for the P. to believe that he could
save the child without receiving serious injury.
7. Policy: The court did not wish to deter acts of heroism in
preservation of human life.
A. Based on reasonableness, not math.
1. Risk involved must be unreasonably great.
2. Injurious consequences must be unreasonably probable.
B. Five factors to consider
1. Magnitude of the Risk
a. Probability rescuer would be killed.
2. Value of Principle Object
a. Value of rescuer's life, very high.
3. Value of the Collateral Object
a. Value of victim's life, very high.
4. Utility of the Risk
a. Probability that the rescue is successful.
5. Necessity of the Risk
a. Probability that the victim would not rescue itself.
C. Human life may be put at risk to save property if it is reasonable
to do so after considering the 5 factors.
Seavey, Negligence - Subjective or Objective?
A. If P.'s and D.'s interests are of equal value, D. is not liable if
he takes a 50% chance of destroying P.'s property to save his own.
1. Balancing Interests
B. An unlawful actor is liable to anyone because his act, by
definition, has no value to society.
** Hauser v. Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. (1928)
2. Facts: P. is a woman who felt sick while riding on D.'s train. P.
went to the lavatory, and feinted. When she fell to the ground, her body
lay in such a way that her head was under the sink, and her face came
into contact with exposed steam pipes. P. was badly burned.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial Jury returned verdict for P. D.'s motion
for directed verdict was denied. D. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: One is negligent when one fails to protect against
injuries that are reasonably anticipated.
5. Classical Holding: One is not negligent when one constructs a device
which protects against all reasonably anticipated injuries that may be
caused by the reasonably anticipated actions of its users.
6. Reasoning: In order for someone to be burned, they would have to get
under the sink. The area under the sink was not intended for use by
passengers. The D. could not reasonably anticipate that the P. would
have fallen with part of her body under the sink, therefore D. was not
liable for P.'s injuries.
** Osborne v. Montgomery (1931)
2. Facts: P. is an errand boy who was injured when his bicycle handlebar
struck the partially opened left-hand door of D.'s car while it was
3. Procedural Posture: The question was put to the jury whether the
driver of the car was negligent and the boy not contributorily
4. Judge's Rule: One is negligent when one acts with without ordinary
care - the degree of care which the great mass of mankind would
ordinarily exercise under the same or similar circumstances.
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The rights of a person living in society are not absolute.
We are constantly doing acts which result in injury to others, but we
must consider the balancing of social justice in determining liability.
A firetruck driver might reasonably foresee injury to others while
driving quickly through a highly populated area, but he would not be
negligent if that injury occurred because the benefits of his actions to
society outweigh the probability of injury.
** Cooley v. Public Service Co. (1940)
2. Facts: P. was talking on the phone when a severe storm caused D.'s
power lines to part and fall onto the phone lines below. The resultant
noise that the P.'s telephone made scared her so badly that she fainted
and sustained a severe neurosis. P. contended that baskets should be
placed under power wires that cross telephone wires in order to prevent
contact of broken power lines with the telephone lines below.
3. Procedural Posture: P. sued both the Power Company (D.) and the Phone
Company. Trial jury found for the phone company, but against the power
company. The power company appealed and the judgment was reversed.
4. Judge's Rule: One is not negligent when one acts with due care to
prevent a probable injury to someone, and in doing so, can not prevent
an unlikely injury to another.
5. Classical Holding: One is negligent when one acts without due care to
prevent a probable injury to another.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the baskets for holding the power
wires would increase the obvious and immediate risk to the passerby on
the street that he would be injured if the power lines broke. Thus, to
protect the telephone user would be to not protect the passerby. The law
could not tolerate such a theory of "be liable if you do and liable if
Notes: In a case governed by negligence, the actor may only need
consider due care when he engages in his activity, but not when
determining how frequently he engages in his activity. Thus, the driver
of a car is not negligent when the car hits a pedestrian, if the driver
was acting with due care. However, the more times the driver drives, the
higher the cumulative probability that he will hit a pedestrian. Strict
liability, however, requires the actor to consider both due care and
frequency. [This argument is flawed if you consider that one of the
ingredients of determining reasonableness is necessity. One who does a
dangerous activity for an unnecessary reason could still be negligent].
** United States v. Carroll Towing Co. (1947)
2. Facts: The D. tug was moving a line of unmanned barges out to sea
when one broke loose, collided with another vessel, and sustained hull
damage. The barge began to leak [and eventually must have sunk].
3. Procedural Posture: Unknown.
4. Judge's Rule: One is negligent when one does not act to prevent
injury to another when the burden of prevention is less than the
expected cost of the injury.
5. Classical Holding: A barge owner is negligent when he does not man
the barge during daylight hours in a crowded port.
6. Reasoning: The court (Chief Justice Learned Hand) stated that it was
not unreasonable to expect that the barge would break its moorings and
cause damage to another ship, especially in the crowded New York harbor.
The court used a mathematical justification to determine negligence. It
stated that a person was negligent when B < P*L, where B= the burden of
prevention (cost of the bargee's attendance), P= probability of injury
(barge would unmoor and collide with another vessel), and L = the loss
(cost of the damages arising from the collision.)
Notes: 1. This is the beginning of the cost/benefit analysis of tort
law. 2. It is difficult to determine these mathematical numbers with any
accuracy. Their only use should be to point out which factors should be
given most consideration. 3. Marginal Precautions - taking a precaution
is only desirable to the extent that it directly reduces expected cost
of injury. Thus, a $100 precaution to save a $150 loss is only desirable
if each dollar of the $100 went toward reducing the loss by at least a
dollar. If the first $60 spent bought $120 of protection, and the next
$40 spent only bought $30 of protection, you shouldn't spend the extra
$40 because you get -$10 returns. 4. The Hand formula assumes a risk-
neutral person. A risk preference or risk aversion would cause the
outcome to be different. 5. Both a system of strict liability with
contributory negligence, and a system of negligence without contributory
negligence will result in a risk-neutral person acting optimally. In the
former P. (victim) is barred from recovery by his own conduct, and in
the second he is barred from recovery by the D.'s conduct. Therefore, in
both cases he will be careful to avoid injury. 6. Grady has argued that
a negligence system promotes over-cautiousness because a potential D.
knows that a small error in judgment can lead to an immense increase in
cost ($0 to big$), whereas in strict liability, a small error in
judgment leads only to a small increase in cost (big$ to bigger$). On
the other hand, Calfee and Craswell argue that the D. will be under-
cautious because he considers the real probability that the court might
not judge him negligent. 7. Calabresi and Hirschoff argue for strict
liability by saying that it reduces the difficulty of the decision the
court needs to make to one of who could have most easily have avoided
the costs, rather than whether the cost of avoidance was worth it.
** Titus v. Bradford, B. & K. R. Co. (1890)
2. Facts: D. is a railroad company that operated a narrow-gauge line
which often carried standard-gauge curved bottom cars. The cars were
placed on the narrow gauge flat trucks and secured from wobbling by
placing wooden blocks under the ends. P. was a brakeman who died when
the standard gauge car he was riding on toppled over because its wooden
block brace came loose.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court jury found for P., and D.
appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: Employer are not negligent when they use machinery and
appliances of ordinary character and reasonable safety which are
ordinarily used by the business.
5. Classical Holding: Employers are not negligent to their employees
when they use the ordinary and reasonable care normally provided by
others in the same business.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that use of standard-gauge cars on the
narrow-gauge track was normal and customary in the railroad business.
Furthermore, the D. was aware of the dangers of the job, and so accepted
the risks. They stated that an employer was not required to use a
particular device that might have prevented a particular accident if it
was not in common use.[B.S.]
** Mayhew v. Sullivan Mining Co. (1884)
2. Facts: P. was a contractor working in D.'s mine shaft. In the course
of his work, P. routinely stood on a platform suspended in the mine
shaft. D. cut a ladder hole in the center of the platform without
notifying P., nor erecting a guard rail. P. fell through the ladder hole
and received serious injury.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court refused to allow testimony of the
person who cut the hole as to the custom of putting unguarded ladder
holes in mine shaft platforms. The jury found negligence, and D.
appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: Employers are negligent, even though they use the
average custom of others in the business, if they fail to provide
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: It would be no excuse for want of ordinary care to say
that all employers in the same business use the same lack of ordinary
care. The trial court was proper in disallowing the testimony of the
D.'s witness as to mining customs, because in this case, the
carelessness of cutting the ladder hole was apparent.
** The T.J. Hooper (1931)
2. Facts: The operator of the tugboat "T.J. Hooper" was sued under a
towing contract when his vessels and cargo were lost in a gale. The T.J.
Hooper was not outfitted with a working radio capable of receiving the
gov't weather broadcasts which warned of the coming storm. Several other
tugs did have working radios, and so were able to avoid the storm, but
not all coastal tugs carried them.
3. Procedural Posture: Original court.
4. Judge's Rule: Tugs are unseaworthy if they do not carry effective
radio sets as part of their equipment.
5. Classical Holding: Business owners are negligent if they do not
provide the safety equipment that is customarily used by the majority of
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that radios were in almost universal
use at the time of the accident. Many tug owners considered them a
necessary part of their equipment. Thus, when the owner of the T.J.
Hooper failed to provide working radios on his tugs, he was negligent.
** The T.J. Hooper (1932)
2. Facts: Same as above.
3. Procedural Posture: On appeal from the above decision.
4. Judge's Rule: Common prudence is not the strict measure of
negligence, but rather reasonable prudence.
5. Classical Holding: Business owners are negligent if they do not
exercise reasonable care in the course of their business.
6. Reasoning: The fact that a whole industry may have ignored the use of
reasonable care in their conduct does not excuse them from being
Notes: 1. Judge Hand's decision represents a revolution in going from
the belief that market forces determine what is a cost-effective safety
measure, to the notion of active regulation of safety measures. Custom
may be used as evidence of reasonable care, but it is not the strict
measure of reasonable care. 2. Balancing risk and safety is a
cost/benefit analysis. 3. Safety codes and manuals can be used to show
the custom in an industry, but do not show what ought to be done unless
they meet the standard of reasonable prudence. 4. It is now generally
held that an employer's own rules of conduct may be used as evidence of
his negligence, even if they represent a higher standard of care than
what is required by law. Thus, if an employer deems it prudent to follow
a certain rule, and then does not follow it, he may be negligent, even
if the rule is more strict than the law. 5. As customs change, it may be
negligent not to retrofit previously built structures with safety
measures that are prudently used today, but were unknown or unnecessary
** Helling v. Carey, (1974)
2. Facts: P. visited the D. eye doctor from 1959 (when she was 23 yrs.
old) to 1968 (when she was 32) largely for irritation of the eyes caused
by contact lenses. By the end of 1968, D. suspected that P. had
glaucoma, and tested her for it. She tested positive. However, the
testing happened so late that she had permanent sight loss.
3. Procedural Posture: At trial court, medical experts testified that
the glaucoma test was not routinely given to patients under 40 because
of the rareness of occurrence. The court agreed that this custom
absolved D. of liability. The Court of Appeals affirmed judgment for D..
P. petitioned the Supreme Court for review, which was granted.
4. Judge's Rule: Regardless of the prevailing custom in a profession,
the courts must ultimately decide what is the standard of due care.
5. Classical Holding: An opthamologist who does not administer glaucoma
tests to a patient under their regular care is liable for damages to the
patient if the patient subsequently permanently loses eyesight due to
6. Reasoning: The court quoted Justice Hand in The T.J. Hooper, "Courts
must in the end say what is required; there are precautions so
imperative that even their universal disregard will not excuse their
omission." The glaucoma test was painless, inexpensive, easy to
administer, and quick. The possible damages due to glaucoma were very
severe. The court weighed the cost vs. the benefit, and found that the
custom of not testing persons under 40 was negligent. A concurring
justice (Utter) stated that the negligence argument was not even needed
here, and argued for strict liability under these circumstances.
** Canterbury v. Spence, (1972)
2. Facts: P. suffered from back pain as a teenager. The D., his doctor,
recommended that he undergo a laminectomy to fix his spine. The D. did
not advise P. or his mother of the dangers involved because it was
customary for him to withhold information of risks that he considered
minor. When the D. performed the operation, he found the spinal cord to
be swollen, and in very poor condition. While recovering in the
hospital, the P. slipped and fell as he tried to get out of bed
unattended, contrary to doctor's orders. Shortly after the fall, the P.
experienced paralysis and has since walked on crutches and had bowel
3. Procedural Posture: The P. brought suit as an adult, 4 years after
the operation. Both the hospital and the doctor were named as D.s. The
trial court granted a directed verdict for D., on the grounds that the
P. had failed to provide medical evidence of causation, or negligence on
the part of the doctor in performing the operation.
4. Judge's Rule: "[T]he standard measuring performance of that duty [to
disclose] by physicians, as by others, is conduct which is reasonable
under the circumstances."
5. Classical Holding: A doctor must disclose to a patient all risks that
are reasonable to disclose under the circumstances, as measured by the
patient's right to make an informed choice as to the operation.
6. Reasoning: The court disregarded the D.'s argument that he should not
be liable because it was not his custom to disclose risks that he
considered slight. It is the patient's right of self-decision which
determines how much should be disclosed, and all risks that might bear
upon a prudent patient's decision must be disclosed. However, the doctor
does not need to second guess the patient. He does not need to disclose
risks which the patient should already be aware of, nor those which
would cause the patient to make an irrational decision not to undergo
** Brune v. Belinkoff (1968)
2. Facts: P. slipped and fell as she attempted to get out of her
hospital bed. Evidence showed that the fall was a result of being given
a large dose of anesthetic by D., an anesthesiologist. The normal
practice in New Bedford, where the D. practiced, was to give 8 mg. of
anesthesia. However, the custom in other areas was to give only 4 mg.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court allowed the jury to consider the
average level of skill of the doctor in New Bedford, and so returned a
verdict for D. P. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: A doctor's negligence to be judged by the degree of
care exercised by the average practitioner without regard to his
5. Classical Holding: Doctors are negligent if they do not exercise the
degree of ordinary care exercised by other doctors in the same medical
discipline, under similar circumstances, and with the same medical
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that with the advancements in
communication and transportation, it was not proper to judge a doctor's
conduct solely in relation to other doctors in his locality. Therefore,
they expressly overruled Small v. Howard, which was the old law meant to
distinguish country doctors' skills from those of distinguished big-city
Notes: 1. In Buck v. St. Clair, the local standard of care was held to
be the same as the national standard of care for board certified
physicians. 2. The national/local standard of care issue is also
applicable to expert medical witnesses. An expert from a different
locality will only be allowed to testify if the local statutes permit.
4. Interns may be held to a lower level of skill and care than an
Thayer, Public Wrong and Private Action (1914, 1924)
I. Before criminal ordinances for negligent actions
A. Negligence was a question of fact left to jury using the test of
the "ordinary prudent man".
B. Reasonableness of D.'s conduct was a question of circumstances and
II. After criminal ordinances for negligent actions
A. Negligence is a question of law not for the jury.
B. To try as a question of fact would be to place the judgment of the
ordinary person who knows the ordinance above the judgment of the
legislature who thought the action dangerous enough to outlaw it.
** Osborne v. Mc Masters (1889)
2. Facts: D.'s clerk sold a bottle of poison to P.'s deceased without
labeling it "Poison" as required by statute. The P.'s deceased
apparently confused this bottle with a bottle of medicine, drank it, and
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P. D. appealed to this
4. Judge's Rule: 1. People are liable for negligence if they neglect to
perform a duty required by statute, and a person designed to be
protected by that statute is injured as a result of their breach of that
duty. 2. Breach of a duty imposed by statute is evidence of negligence
as a matter of law, and may be negligence per se.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that it was immaterial whether the duty
imposed was by common law or statute. The statute establishes a fixed
standard by which negligencecommon lawtermined. Thus, the only
difference between the common law and the statute in determining
negligence is that the statute does not require taking into account all
of the circumstances to determine negligence.
Notes: 1. A statute that is, for some reason, defective as an
enforceable statute, is nonetheless a standard that can be used for
determining negligence. 2. Old statutes that are no longer enforced are
NOT strict measures of negligence per se, because the fact that they are
not enforced makes them suspect as a standard of ordinary care. If the
standard was ordinary, it would be enforced. 3. A person may be liable
for damages that arise in the future for a breach of a duty that has not
yet been statutorily enacted. The fact that a statute is later enacted
is strong evidence that a standard of care was required before its
enactment. 4. Only the class of persons that was intended to be
protected by a statute is entitled to recover in an action for its
breach. However, this class can be interpreted broadly. In Teal v. Du
Pont, the employee of a company that was using a ladder was held to have
an action under the OSHA statutes against the manufacturer of the
ladder, even though the OSHA statutes are sometimes limited only to the
employees of the company that manufactures the product. This is because
the OSHA statutes were interpreted to cover all employees. 5. The
statute does not have to provide a specific duty against a specific
injury. The character of the injury to be prevented is all that is
needed to support negligence. A truck that is too heavy for a road
breaks the ordinance that protects the road, but also makes the driver
liable for other property damage that may result (busted underground
pipes). 6. Private courses of actions under Federal statutes must pass
the test of Cort v. Ash: a) is the P. a member of the class meant to be
protected by the statute, b) is there any legislative intent to provide
or deny a private remedy, c) is it consistent with the gist of the
statute to provide a private remedy, and d) is the action traditionally
one of state law jurisdiction and therefore inappropriate to provide a
remedy based solely on the Federal statute. A state may, however, adopt
a Federal statute as a standard of care in its determination of
** Martin v. Herzog (1920)
2. Facts: P.'s deceased was killed when the buggy he was driving
collided with D.'s car. The buggy was not showing the lights required by
3. Procedural Posture: The D. claimed the lack of lights was prima facie
negligence. The trial court found for P., the Court of Appeals reversed.
P. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: The omission of statutory signals is negligent.
5. Classical Holding: To willfully disregard the provisions of a
statute, enacted to provide for the personal safety of the public, is
negligence, unless the statute requires actions which would put the
actor at a greater risk of harm.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the statute for providing lights
on highway vehicles was a standard of care that was fixed by statute,
thus it was a question of law, not fact, that the violation was
negligent. However, they conceded that not all negligent conduct is
necessarily contributory to the proximate cause of the injury.
Notes: 1. In Day v. Pauly, the P. was found to be in violation of a
statute and therefore negligent, even though he was following road
markings placed there by the highway commission. The court said that the
P.'s violation of the statute was not excused by the actions of public
officials. However, in Tedla v. Ellman, the court held that violation of
the statute that required people to ALWAYS walk on the side of the
street facing oncoming traffic was not negligent during light traffic,
because it put the pedestrian at a higher risk of injury. 3. A P. can be
contributorily negligent when he is injured by a D. who violates a
statute if the P. knows that the statute is generally ignored. Thus a
statute does not remove all contributory negligence from a P.
** Brown v. Shyne (1926)
2. Facts: P. hired D. to treat her back as a chiropractor. The D.
represented himself as a capable chiropractor, but had no license to
practice medicine. D. was therefore in violation of a statute. P.
suffered paralyzation as a result of the treatment, and sued for damages
under negligence and malpractice.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court judge allowed the jury to
consider the fact that the D. did not have a license as evidence of
negligence. The D. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: A P. may recover for injuries that were proximately
caused by the violation of a statute by D..
5. Classical Holding: The violation of a statute is negligent as to all
consequences of the violation that the statute was meant to prevent.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that the D. was not liable to a
private party solely because he did not have a license because the
license had no direct bearing on the injury. A doctor does not gain
skill by the awarding of a paper license. Thus, the doctor was
committing an offense against the state, but the lack of a license per
se was not the proximate cause of injury to P..
7. Dissent: The dissent (Crane) reasoned that the statute was meant to
provide protection for the public in exactly this kind of case. The
legislature felt that an absolute bar against unlicensed practice of
medicine was necessary, even though some unlicensed doctors may not
cause harm. Thus, the violation of this statute was the direct cause of
the injury. To hold otherwise would put the judgment of the court ahead
of the legislature.
** Ross v. Hartman (1943)
2. Facts: The P. was a person who was hit by a thief driving the stolen
truck belonging to D.. D.'s employee had left the truck unlocked,
violating a statute.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for D., on the basis that
the violation was not a proximate cause of the injury, because a third
party had intervened. P. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: 1. Violation of safety ordinance is negligence. 2. An
actor who brings about the harm which the statute was intended to
prevent, by creating the hazard that the statute was intended to
prevent, has legally caused the harm, even if a third party has also
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the intention of the statute was
to provide for the safety of the public against exactly this sort of
event. The fact that the thief was also contributorily negligent was
immaterial. The D. was negligent, per se, because he created the risk
that the thief would injure a third party.
Notes: 1. In Richards v. Stanley, the court held that the owner of the
unlocked car was not negligent because the risk that a thief would
injure someone was less than the risk that a borrower (who had
permission) would injure someone. In addition, the court reasoned that
the D. had no duty to protect the P. from injury caused by third
** Vesely v. Sager (1971).
2. Facts: The P. was injured when the car he was driving was hit by a
drink driver who had been drinking heavily at D.'s lodge from 10 PM to 5
am. The D. knew that the patron was drunk, knew that he planned to
drive, and also knew that a windy mountain road was the only exit from
3. Procedural Posture: The D. demurred claiming that the consumption,
not the furnishing, of the alcohol was the proximate cause of injury,
and so he was not liable. The trial court sustained the demurrer. P.
appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: "[A]n actor may be liable if his negligence is a
substantial factor in causing an injury, and he is not relieved of that
liability because of the intervening act of a third person if such act
was reasonably foreseeable at the time of his negligent conduct."
5. Classical Holding: A commercial server of alcoholic beverages may be
liable to an injured party for negligence if he serves alcohol to an
intoxicated person, knows or should know that intoxicated person intends
to drive, and that intoxicated person injures another while driving.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the statute barring persons from
serving alcohol to an intoxicated person was meant to protect the public
at large, and that the injury-producing conduct was one of the hazards
that it meant to prevent, thus it satisfied the negligence test. They
further found that the furnishing of alcohol was a substantial cause of
the injury, apart from the voluntary consumption by the drinker.
Notes: 1. In Coulter v. Superior Court, the court held a non-commercial
supplier of alcohol to be negligent as well. However, California has
explicitly overruled Vesely and Coulter, by enacting a statute that
protects the server from any liability, stating that the consumption and
not the serving of alcohol is the proximate cause of the injury. 2. In
other states, the state of the common law on this issue is very
confused, with judgments and statutes going both ways.
I. Judge and Jury
1. Jury might be biased and return a verdict contrary to established
principles of law.
2. Unpredictability of jury undermines need for consistency in
outcomes of like cases.
II. Holmes, The Common Law (1881).
A. Judge determines negligence when it is a question of law.
1. Judge can determine what conduct is prima facie evidence of
negligence if there is no question of fact of whether the conduct
happened or not.
2. An experienced judge should be able to determine many questions of
negligence without needing the assistance of a jury.
B. Jury determines negligence when it is a question of fact.
1. Sometimes courts need the assistance of the experience of the
community (a jury) to determine negligence as a question of law.
2. Once the jury decides a particular fact pattern is evidence of
negligence, then it should become a settled matter of law thereafter,
and so not be left to a jury.
** Baltimore and Ohio R.R. v. Goodman, (1927)
2. Facts: P. was killed by an oncoming train that he did not see as he
drove his car across a railroad crossing. P. had slowed his car down as
he approached the tracks, but the view of the train was blocked until it
was too late.
3. Procedural Posture: At trial court, D. asked for a directed verdict,
alleging contributory negligence, but did not get it. D. appealed to
this court (Supreme Court).
4. Judge's Rule: (Holmes) Persons are negligent who rely solely upon not
hearing a train or any signal and proceed to cross a railroad track
without taking any further precautions.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The P. was familiar with the crossing, and therefore knew
as he approached it that he would not be able to see the oncoming train.
They reasoned that he should have gotten out of his car, and looked for
a train. The court held that negligence in this case was based on a
standard of conduct that should be well settled already. It was clear
that the P. was negligent and so the court decided the question of
negligence as law, and reversed the finding of the previous jury.
** Pokora v. Wabash Ry., (1934)
2. Facts: P. came to a train crossing in his truck, but he could not see
any approaching trains because there were some boxcars blocking his
vision. He did not get out and look for oncoming trains. As he proceeded
across the tracks, he was killed by an oncoming train.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court awarded a directed verdict for
D.. P. appealed to this court (Supreme Court).
4. Judge's Rule: (Cardozo) A person is not negligent who does not get
out of his car and look for oncoming trains at a railroad track.
5. Classical Holding: When courts determine a fact pattern to be
negligence as a matter of law, they must be careful to base their rule
on standards of common experience.
6. Reasoning: Cardozo reasoned that it would be uncommon and impractical
to require motorists to stop their cars at railroad crossings.
Furthermore, it would not be advantageous because trains move so quickly
that one could be bearing down by the time that the P. got back in his
car and proceeded to cross. Cardozo limited the holding in the Goodman
Notes: The "stop, look, and listen" rule is not applicable when there
are other misleading circumstances. For example, obstructions to view,
such as a shack, which would prevent a P. from seeing an oncoming train
even if he looked. It is also inappropriate where the train tracks are
normally manned by flagmen.
** Wilkerson v. McCarthy, (1949)
2. Facts: P. was a railroad employee. P. attempted to cross a catwalk
that was chained off by the railroad because it was narrow and slippery,
and bordered a deep pit. However, it was "customary" for the employees
to ignore the chains and cross anyway. P. fell into the pit as he
attempted to cross.
3. Procedural Posture: Both the trial and appeals courts of the state
granted directed verdicts for the D. stating that based on the
circumstances, there was no way that a reasonable jury could find
negligence on the part of the D.. P. appealed to the U.S. Supreme court
based on the wording of a federal statute that allowed a P. to recover a
diminished amount even though he was contributorily negligent.
4. Judge's Rule: When there is evidence of a D.'s negligence that could
result in a jury finding for P., the negligence issue should be
submitted to a jury.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that there were sufficient arguments
on both sides of the negligence issue to preclude determination of
negligence as a matter of law.
7. Dissent: The dissent did not find any evidence of negligence on the
part of D.. They reasoned that it would be unfair to hold the R.R.
liable because the employee willfully disregarded the safety chains.
Notes: 2. There are some arguments that a tort case should not be left
to a jury. It is expensive and inconveniences the very people on which
we are depending to make an unbiased decision. Additionally, most juries
are not intelligent enough to take on technical issues such as those in
medical malpractice and products liability. However, one early study
shows that juries tend to agree fairly consistently with what a judge
would have found. Studies show that corporate defendants and doctors
suffer from "deep pocket" syndrome. Juries normally award P.'s much
greater damages when the D. is thought to have "deep pockets." This fact
tends to undercut the effectiveness of the Hand Formula in determining
negligence because it throws an extra term in.
** Byrne v. Boadle, (1863).
2. Facts: P. was walking past D.'s warehouse when a barrel of flour fell
from a hoist and struck him.
3. Procedural Posture: English case. Trial court found that there was no
evidence of negligence to be submitted to a jury. P. moved to Court of
4. Judge's Rule: The mere fact that a barrel of flour falls from a D.'s
warehouse and strikes a passerby is prima facie evidence of negligence
on the part of D., and the burden is upon the D. to rebut that evidence.
5. Classical Holding: When a set of circumstances is sufficient to
provide a prima facie case of D.'s negligence, the D. has the burden to
rebut that evidence.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that is was not necessary for the P. to
prove exactly how the barrel fell, or to prove that it was in the
custody of the D.'s servants at the time. Some circumstances are
sufficient that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies, and the P.
can prove negligence by circumstantial evidence.
Notes: 1. For the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur to be applicable:
(1) The event must be of a kind which ordinarily does not occur in the
absence of someone's negligence;
(2) It must be caused by an agency or instrumentality within the
exclusive control of the defendant; and
(3) It must not have been due to any voluntary action or contribution on
the part of the plaintiff. [Prosser & Keeton].
3. In Larson v. St. Francis Hotel, the court found that the doctrine of
res ipsa loquitur did not apply because hotel guests in spontaneous
celebration of V-day, who threw furniture out the window, were not under
the positive control of the D.. Furthermore, this accident is not
normally the kind that happens only with negligence on the part of the
hotel. On the other hand, in Connolly v. Nicollet Hotel, the hotel was
held to be negligent when it was "taken over" by a convention, and the
accident was the culmination of several days of riotous drunken
behavior. 4. Acts of God, like ships sinking at sea, are not normally
applicable to res ipsa loquitur because there are many other potential
causes besides the negligence of the D..
** Ybarra v. Spangard, (1944).
2. Facts: P. went into the hospital for appendix surgery, and was
treated by many doctors and nurses while in the hospital and under
anesthesia. When he awoke from his operation, he had severe pain in his
neck and shoulder, which continued for a long time. He had no congenital
defects that would cause this pain, and there was expert medical
testimony to show that it was caused by trauma.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court granted a motion for dismissal
based on the grounds that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur could not
apply to multiple D.'s, because the P. must show that the injury was
caused by an instrumentality under the D.'s exclusive control, and in
this case, the P. could not point at a particular D..
4. Judge's Rule: "[W]here a plaintiff receives unusual injuries while
unconcious and in the course of medical treatment, all those defendants
who had any control over his body or the instrumentalities which might
have caused the injuries may properly be called upon to meet the
inference of negligence by giving an explaination of their conduct."
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur
should be liberalized to apply to the case of multiple defendants,
because the intent of the doctrine is to put a presumption of negligence
on the D.. The peculiarity of the facts of a person undergoing surgery
in a hospital should not preclude a P. from calling more than 1 D. to
answer. There is a suspected "conspiracy of silence" among physicians
that must be overcome by allowing the P. to use the force of res ipsa
loquitur to break up the conspiracy.
** Butterfield v. Forrester, (1809).
2. Facts: The P. was riding his horse home from a public house when his
horse tripped across a pole extending across the street, and was thrown
from his horse. D. had put the pole across the street to block the way
while he made repairs to his house. It was late but there was still
sufficient light to see the pole if he had not been riding his horse so
3. Procedural Posture: Trial judge directed the jury that if the pole
could have been seen by someone riding with ordinary prudence, and that
the P. was not riding with ordinary prudence, to find for the D.. P.
4. Judge's Rule: "One person being in fault will not dispense with
another's using ordinary care for himself."
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the P. could not recover since it
was his own negligence that was a contributing cause to the accident.
** Beems v. Chicago, Rock Island & Peoria R.R. Co., (1882).
2. Facts: P.'s inestate (a brakeman) was killed as he attempted to
uncouple two train cars. He had made a first attempt, and when
unsuccessful, he ordered the engineer to check his speed, and then
immediately made another attempt. The engineer did not slow down, and
P.'s inestate caught his foot in a rail and was run over by the train.
3. Procedural Posture: The trail judge refused to enter the D.'s motion
for judgment non-obstante (not withstanding the verdict), arguing that
the P. was contributorily negligent. D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: "Whatever the inestate's condition at the time of the
accident, whether free to move, or fastened to the place, the defendant
is liable if its cars were negligently driven over him."
5. Classical Holding: When a P. is injured without any negligence on the
part of the D., then he cannot recover.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the brakeman had a right to expect
that his order to slow the train would be complied with, and that he was
not required to wait before trying to uncouple the cars. If the cars had
been slowed, he would not have been exposed to danger.
Notes: Shwartz wrote that the standard of negligence between D. and P.
is a double standard. An objective, stern standard for the conduct of
the D., and a subjective, mild standard for the conduct of the P.. This
was necessary to avoid a P. being prevented from recovery by a slight
misjudgment. A negligence system should not require any showing of
contributory negligence on the part of P., because under the Hand
formula, the D. can always escape any liability by showing that he took
all reasonable precautions. Under strict liability, contributory
negligence is critical, however it is not elegant. Consider 2 drivers
who collide head-on through no negligence. They would then have to pay
each other's damages instead of their own because each would be strictly
liable to the other.
** Gyerman v. United States Lines Co., (1972).
2. Facts: The P. is a longshoreman who was unloading stacks of fishmeal.
Fishmeal must be stacked carefully or it will tear and fall, and these
stacks were not properly stacked by D. shipping company. P. brought the
danger to the attention of D.'s supervisor, but he stated that nothing
could be done. P. did not inform his own supervisor as provided for in
grievance procedures. P. was injured on the 4th day of unloading the
improperly stacked fishmeal.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found that the P. was
contributorily negligent in not informing his own supervisor or stopping
work in the face of the known danger, and thus barred from recovery.
4. Judge's Rule: "The plaintiff's negligence is a legally contributing
cause of his harm if, but only if, it is a substantial factor in
bringing about his harm."
5. Classical Holding: If an employee does not report an unsafe condition
to his supervisor, and is subsequently injured while working under the
unsafe conditions, his contributory negligence bars his recovery only if
it can be shown that the unsafe condition would have been corrected if
he had reported it.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that although the P. was negligent in not
reporting the unsafe condition to his supervisor, there was no proof
offered by D. to show that the situation was correctable, or would have
been corrected if it had received immediate attention. Just because the
supervisor knew does not necessarily mean that he could have, or would
have done anything about it, and the P. would still have been injured.
Notes: 1. When an employer's negligence is violation of a safety statute
(OSHA) to provide a safe workplace for employees, there should be no
contributory negligence or assumption of risk defense. This would make
the statute unenforceable because the D. could provide substandard
equipment to the employee, and then claim that the employee was
negligent for using it. In such a case the employer could save money,
knowing that there would always be someone willing to work under unsafe
conditions. 2. Contributory negligence also does not bar recovery when
the P. is confined to a custodial institution. Why? 3. A patient can be
contributorily negligent in a malpractice case if he does not provide an
accurate medical history and the patient knows that the doctor is
relying on the mistaken information in putting the patient at a risk. 4.
P.'s necessity can be a defense to contributory negligence. 5. The
contributory negligence must be a substantial factor in bringing about
the injury, but the actual injury must be one that is foreseeable by the
P.. Thus, a person who is negligently working on a platform without a
railing is not contributorily negligent if his injuries arise from a
bunch of bricks falling on him and knocking him off the platform
(Smithwick v. Hall & Upson Co.).
** LeRoy Fibre Co. v. Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry., (1914).
2. Facts: P. owns land that is adjacent to D.'s railroad track. P.
stacked his flax close enough to the railroad that the sparks from a
passing train caused the flax to catch fire.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found that the D. was negligent in
operating the train in such a way as to produce so many sparks. The jury
also found that the P. was contributorily negligent in placing his flax
within 100 ft of the railroad tracks.
4. Judge's Rule: (McKenna) A property owner is not negligent when he is
damaged by the negligence of another while making a proper use of his
5. Classical Holding: A farmer is not contributorily negligent when he
stacks his crop at a reasonable distance from a railroad track such that
a well-managed train would not light the crop on fire.
6. Reasoning: Mc Kenna reasoned that the property rights were absolute,
and that a property owner should not have to protect his property from
the unlawful acts of the railroad. Therefore, the issue of contributory
negligence was not valid. Holmes partially concurred, but stated that
the property right was not absolute, and that the question of
reasonableness of how close the flax could be stacked to the railroad
tracks was a question of fact for the jury.
Notes: Holmes' view has been interpreted in an economical sense. When
use of adjoining properties is involved, the rights of each party must
be weighed. The use of one's property by either party imposes an
inconvenience on the other, and the relative economic benefit must be
** Derheim v. N. Fiorito Co., (1972)
2. Facts: D. made an illegal left turn in front of P. and P. was injured
in the resulting accident. However, P. was not wearing his seatbelt, and
D. claimed that the failure of P. to wear his seatbelt was a
contributing factor to P.'s injuries by the doctrine of avoidable
consequences. There was not a statute requiring the P. to wear his
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court refused to allow evidence or
testimony that would indicate that P.'s injuries would have been reduced
by wearing his seatbelt.
4. Judge's Rule: A person who fails to wear a seatbelt in a state that
does not statutorily require the use of seatbelts is not negligent under
the doctrine of avoidable consequences, and therefore his damages are
not mitigated by his failure to wear a seatbelt.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court found several impracticalities to letting the
"seat belt defense" mitigate damages. The failure to properly use any
safety measure, for instance adjusting a headrest, could be used to
mitigate damages if the defense were allowed. Furthermore, a battle of
experts would result, with both sides arguing about which specific
injuries were caused by the impact, and which could have been avoided.
Also, in the absence of a statute, the law would afford unequal
protection to the owners of cars that had seatbelts.
Notes: 1. In Spier v. Barker, the NY Court of Appeals allowed the "seat
belt defense" in determining the extent of P.'s injuries, placing the
burden of proof on D. to show that P.'s failure to use a seatbelt was a
cause of increased injury. The court used Prosser's doctrine of
avoidable consequences, precluding recovery of any damages that could
have been avoided by reasonable conduct on the part of P.. 2. Some
states have a statute that provides a fine for failure to wear a
seatbelt, but specifically provides that failure to wear a seatbelt
shall not limit the diminish damages in a tort action. 3. A similar
situation arises with motorcyclists not wearing helmets.
** Kumkumian v. City of New York, (1953)
2. Facts: D. subway train stopped suddenly in the tunnel. The operators
knew that it must either be caused by a faulty valve, a passenger
pulling the emergency stop, or by a tripping device under the train that
would be tripped by a person or body coming into contact with it as the
train went by. The operator reset the brakes and the train proceeded one
car length before stopping again. This happened twice before the
operator stepped out of the car and looked for an obstruction. They then
found the body of P. under the 4th car.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial jury found for P. on the theory of last
clear chance, and the Court of Appeals set aside the verdict and
reversed under the theory of ordinary contributory negligence.
4. Judge's Rule: When a train operator ignores the brakes of the train
tripping unexpectedly and takes no action to investigate the cause, the
operator's actions may be "negligence so reckless as to betoken
indifference to knowledge", and the issue of last clear chance may be
submitted to a jury.
5. Classical Holding: A person who ignores knowledge that a negligent
victim is in peril, and fails to act to avoid injury to the victim, is
liable under the doctrine of last clear chance.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that the tripping devices were not placed
there to be ignored. The fact that the operator successfully reset the
brakes should have told him that there was no mechanical failure, and so
there must have been an emergency. The operator did not even open his
own door to look at the length of his own car.
Notes: 1. Last clear chance avoids unpleasant results when contributory
negligence is a complete bar to recovery. Normally, the D.'s negligence
happens after the P.'s in order to invoke last clear chance. However,
the doctrine was stretched in British Columbia Electric Ry., Ltd. v.
Loach, the court held that the D. violated its last clear chance by
failing to keep its brakes in good enough working order to have stopped
before killing P.. 2. The doctrine of last clear chance also serves to
place the burden of loss where it best reduces the likelihood of an
accident. Under a strict contributory negligence bar, the D. has no
reason to avoid the accident, even if he can. Therefore, last clear
chance only provides an exception from contributory negligence when it
makes sense economically.
** Lamson v. American Axe & Tool Co., (1900)
2. Facts: P. was employed by D. as a hatchet painter. As part of P.'s
job, he placed the painted hatchets on a rack above him to dry. The P.
felt that the rack was unsafe, and brought this to the attention of his
supervisor, who said that P. would have to use the racks or leave. P.
remained and continued to use the racks, and eventually a hatchet fell
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court directed a verdict for D., and P.
appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: A person may not recover for tort damages where that
person has continued to do an activity which he knows to be likely to
5. Classical Holding: An employee who continues to work under unsafe
conditions, even when he is aware that they are likely to cause him
injury, may not recover damages.
6. Reasoning: Holmes reasoned that the P. knew the risks better than
anyone else, yet he stayed. He was notified by his supervisor that he
could leave if he did not want to take the chance. By staying, he
consciously weighed the value of the job more than the probability of
injury, and so he took the risk.
Notes: 1. The obsolete "common employment" rule used to govern cases
whereby the P. could not recover against his employer if the accident
was caused by a fellow employee, under the theory that the P. was being
paid to take the risks. 2. Assumption of risk has been viewed under
contract theory as a bargain whereby the P. makes a deal for high wages
for high risk. Assumption of risk may be a defense even when the P.'s
conduct is reasonable, as long as it is risky. 3. Workers may be paid a
"premium" for higher risk jobs. This premium has been empirically shown
to be about right for the market. 4. Worker's compensation has done away
with the need for most litigation involving the assumption of risk
** Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., (1929)
2. Facts: P. was a patron at an amusement park. D. ran the amusement
park. One of the "rides" was called "The Flopper" and was an inclined,
moving belt. The point of the ride was to stand up on the belt as it
moved and try to look cool. However, when P. stepped on the ride, he
fell and fractured his knee.
3. Procedural Posture: Unknown.
4. Judge's Rule: Violenti non fit injuria. One who takes part in a sport
accepts the dangers that inhere in it so far as they are obvious and
5. Classical Holding: A person who volunteers to go on an amusement park
ride, is aware of the nature of the risks involved, and is then injured
by a foreseeable risk of the ride, may not recover damages.
6. Reasoning: Cordozo reasoned that the P. understood exactly the nature
of the risk involved, and that was why he went on the ride - because the
risk was the excitement. The P. had watched previous riders, and took
the chance that he would be injured in a fall.
Notes: 1. Assumption of risk is not a complete defense if the P. has no
notice of the dangers involved. Thus, like in informed consent, the D.
must warn the P. of any risks that might not be obvious. In addition, in
Russo v. Range, the court held that the amusement park could be liable
for damages to the P. from dangers that the P. did not assume. 2.
Spectators of sporting events are said to assume the risk when it is
generally well known. For instance, being hit by a foul ball is well
known, however, being hit by a golf ball while standing in line at a
concession stand far from the tee may not be. 3. Professional athletes
are said to assume risks which are generally known by other professional
athletes of the same level of experience. However, a P. may still
recover for injuries sustained while playing an extremely hazardous
sport if the cause of the injury was not a risk inherent in the sport.
** Meistrich v. Casino Arena Attractions, (1959)
2. Facts: P. was ice skating in D.'s arena, which was too hard and
slippery for ordinary skaters. The P. knew this, however, he continued
to skate and was injured.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found that D. was negligent in
preparation of the ice rink for its patrons (breach of duty). This court
is reviewing the charge to the jury on the impact of P.'s conduct on his
4. Judge's Rule: The term assumption of risk has 2 meanings. In its
primary sense, it is a denial of breach of duty by the D., and so the
burden of proof is on the P.. In its secondary sense, it is a defense by
a negligent D. against P.'s recovery based on contributory negligence,
and the burden of proof is on the D..
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that there was confusion in that
assumption of risk had two separate and distinct meanings. In its
primary sense, the D. is claiming that he had no duty of care to the P.,
and therefore D. was not negligent. In the secondary sense, it was a
defense by the D. that although he was negligent, P. should be barred
fro recovery because he knew the risks and proceeded anyway. The
secondary sense would be no different than plain contributory
negligence. If the jury found that an ordinarily prudent person would
have undertaken the same risks, then there is no contributory
negligence. It would be the same as the man darting in front of a train
to save a child. There was a great risk, but no contributory negligence.
Notes: 1. In Marshall v. Ranne, P. was attacked by D.'s wild boar on the
way to his car. Trial court found P. could not recover because he was
contributorily negligent in not shooting the boar when he had the
chance. The supreme court reversed stating that P. was not
contributorily negligent because the D. had put him in a position where
he had no voluntary choice. The only way he could avoid the boar was to
stay in his house. The suggestion has been made that a P. should only
recover the cost of efficient prevention (i.e. the cost of building a
fence), plus the cost of any injuries that would have occurred if the
precautions had actually been taken, regardless of whether the P. took
the precaution or not. This would cause optimum behavior in a P. because
he would only be allowed to recover for injuries that would have
resulted when he was not contributorily negligent. 2. The "fireman's
rule" applies to all professionals that take on hazardous jobs that
maintain public order. They are barred from recovery due to a D.'s
negligence (or even criminal act) because they wouldn't have a job
unless there was a negligent D..
** Obstetrics & Gynecologists v. Pepper, (1985)
2. Facts: P. went to D. medical clinic to get oral contraceptives. As
standard procedure, the D. requires patients to sign a form waiving
their right to trial and requiring binding arbitration as the patient's
sole remedy in case of a complaint. P. does not remember signing the
form, or it being explained to her. P. received a prescription for pills
which later caused her to have a cerebral incident which left her
partially paralyzed. The prescription was contraindicated by her medical
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found that the waiver was not a
binding contract, and denied D.'s motion to stay the trial and order
arbitration. No findings of fact or conclusions of law were ever filed.
4. Judge's Rule: A contract of adhesion which limits the duties or
liabilities of the stronger party is not binding unless there is plain
and clear notification of the terms and an understanding consent by the
5. Classical Holding: A medical waiver form which requires a patient to
waive rights to a trial and submit to arbitration is not a binding
contract unless it can be shown that the patient fully understood and
consented to the terms.
6. Reasoning: The D. did not show that the waiver form was ever
explained to P., and so they failed their burden of proof. The patient
had no opportunity to negotiate or change any of the terms and there was
no evidence that she knowingly consented to the terms. [Thus P. did not
assume the risk that she might not be able to have a fair trial.]
** Li v. Yellow Cab Co. of Cal., (1975)
2. Facts: P. turned across three oncoming traffic lanes to get to a
service station, and D.'s car and P.'s car collided after D. sped
through a yellow light.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court held that the P. was barred from
recovery because of her own contributory negligence.
4. Judge's Rule: A P. may recover damages from an injury caused by the
negligence of the D., even if the negligence of the P. was a
contributing cause to the injury, but the amount of recovery shall be
reduced proportionally by the amount of P.'s negligence as compared to
the D.'s negligence.
5. Classical Holding: Where the P. may recover against a single D., and
where the D's conduct was not wantonly or willfully negligent, a P. may
recover damages from an injury caused by the negligence of the D., even
if the negligence of the P. was a contributing cause to the injury, but
the amount of recovery shall be reduced proportionally by the amount of
P.'s negligence as compared to the D.'s negligence.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the contributory negligence bar to
recovery was patently unfair. They reasoned that the difficulties
arising from a suit against multiple D's were not sufficient to defeat
the need for comparative negligence. They further reasoned that the last
clear chance rule and the contributory negligence portion of assumption
of risk should be absorbed by comparative negligence. They chose the
"pure" comparative negligence rule over the "up to the point" rule
because it was more sound. The "up to the point" rule would still be a
bar, and would still result in an unjust outcome when the comparative
negligence of P. and D. were very close.
Notes: 1. Comparative negligence was applied to some extent even under
the strict contributory negligence rule because it allowed a P. to
recover when his negligence was very slight and the D.'s was gross. 2.
Many courts have waited for their legislatures to institute statutory
comparative negligence rather than judicially creating it. 4. In a "up
to the point" comparative negligence system, the P. is motivated to sue
as many D.'s as possible because the sum of D.'s negligence is greater
the more D.'s there are. 5. (a) Comparative negligence principles did
not apply to strict liability actions brought against a common carrier.
(b) Some courts do not apply comparative negligence where the D.'s
negligence is wanton, reasoning that wanton negligence is of a different
kind, and not just a greater degree, than ordinary negligence. (c)
Comparative negligence does not apply to intentional torts. (d)
Comparative negligence does apply to avoidable consequences and
mitigation of damages. (f) Comparative negligence applies to the
contributory negligence version of assumption of risk, but not the
waiver of D.'s duty version of assumption of risk. (g) Under comparative
negligence, the insurance companies still have to pay the full amount to
the other side. The awards are not offset. (h) Comparative negligence
has a strange effect on economic motivation, because it then becomes
dependent on how much precaution the D. has taken. Under the Hand
formula reasoning, the P. might not be economically motivated to take a
precaution until the D. has taken their sufficient precaution. Once the
D. has taken appropriate precautions, the comparative negligence has
shifted, and the P. must take precautions or risk a higher loss. Errors
on one side would then promote strategic responses by the other side.
** New York Central R.R. v. Grimstead, (1920)
2. Facts: P.'s decedent was drowned when he fell into the water off of
his barge. The accident was caused by a collision with another vessel.
P.'s decedent could not swim, and his wife was unable to save him. There
were no life-rings on board. P. sued D. owner of the barge for not
providing adequate life saving equipment (life-rings).
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P., and D. claimed
4. Judge's Rule: The absence of a life ring on a ship is not a proximate
cause of the drowning of a person who cannot swim and falls overboard
from a ship. [B.S.]
5. Classical Holding: An act or omission must be a proximate cause of an
injury to be considered negligent.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that there was "nothing whatever to
show that the decedent was not drowned because he did not know how to
swim, nor anything to show that, if there had been a life buoy on board,
the decedent's wife would have got it in time, that is, sooner than she
got the small line, or, if she had, that she should nave thrown it so
that her husband could have seized it, or, if she did, that he would
have seized it, or that, if he did, it would have prevented him from
drowning." [This goes against Carroll Towing because a radio might not
have prevented the tug from sinking, it could have broken down and been
too slow to get to port.]
Notes: 1. Grimstead discourages employers from providing life-saving
equipment, because the of the reasoning that it might not help anyway.
The modern cases give more latitude to the jury to decide whether or not
the victim could have been saved, and to assign comparative negligence.
2. When, because of the D.'s negligence, there is not sufficient
evidence to show causation, the burden of proof shifts to the D. to
absolve themselves if they can. [Prima facie case or res ipsa loquitur.]
** Stimpson v. Wellington Service Corp., (1969)
2. Facts: The D. drove their 137 ton rig over the public street in
violation of statutory weight limits. The P.'s water pipe that extended
under the street broke, and flooded his basement. The P. claimed that
the weight of the rig put stress on the pipes and caused the flooding.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P., and one of the
questions to the court of appeals was whether the P. could connect the
flooding in his basement to the D.'s violation of the statute.
4. Judge's Rule: Absolute proof of actual causation is not required when
it is reasonable to infer from the facts presented that the act was the
proximate cause of the damage.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that it was within a layman's grasp to
understand that a heavy truck could put enough stress on a pipe under
the street to cause it to rupture, even in the absence of expert
testimony. It was not speculation for the jury to find that the two
incidents were related.
Notes: 1. In Reynolds v. Texas & Pacific Ry. Co., the court held that
"where the negligence of the defendant greatly multiplies the chances of
accident to the P., and is of a character naturally leading to its
occurrence, the mere possibility that it might have happened without the
negligence is not sufficient to break the chain of cause and effect
between the negligence and the injury."
** Richardson v. Richardson-Merrell, (1986)
2. Facts: P. had a child that suffered from physical deformities of the
arms and legs. P. was prescribed Bendectin during the early part of her
pregnancy to prevent vomiting and morning sickness. The trial was a
virtual "battle of the experts", but it was generally well settled in
the scientific community that Bendectin was not a cause of birth
3. Procedural Posture: The P. claimed that the drug caused the birth
defects, and the trial court's jury found for P.. D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: When an issue is so highly esoteric and technical that
it involves the cutting edge of medical technology, and has been settled
by nearly universal consensus among the medical experts, it is no longer
a question of fact to be decided by a jury.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the P.'s expert witness was on of
the few medical experts who still felt that Bendectin caused birth
defects. They refused to give credence to the argument that causation
was shown simply by showing that the damage happened after the action.
For a jury to reject the general consensus of the medical community and
the FDA, which was more knowledgeable and had heard the same facts, was
unreasonable and was speculation.
** Herskovits v. Group Health Cooperative, (1983)
2. Facts: The P. died of cancer after the D. negligently diagnosed his
cancer after it had already proceeded to a point where it increased his
chance of death by 14%. However, the patient had less than a 50% chance
of survival to begin with.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court granted D.'s motion that the case
be dismissed because the P.'s deceased had less than 50% chance of
survival, and therefore it could not ever be shown that the D.'s
negligence more likely than not (51%) caused the death.
4. Judge's Rule: A D. can be liable for damages if the P. can show that
the D.'s negligence caused a statistical reduction in the chances of the
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that the D. deprived the P. of a
significant chance to recover. To decide otherwise would give the
doctors a blanket release from liability whenever the patient's chances
were less than 50%, regardless of how flagrant the negligence. The
majority said the damages should be limited to the amount of money lost
due to early death. The dissent stated that it would open the door for
juries to be emotional, and would be contrary to traditional proximate
cause considerations. [Why is this not done exactly like comparative
Notes: 2. A P. can recover for "probable future consequences", meaning
the increased chance that they will be exposed to harm in the future. 3.
Even the creation of risk can be compensable, even without actual
** City of Piqua v. Morris, (1918)
2. Facts: D. city maintained water reserves with overflow wickets that
became clogged due to D.'s negligence. During a storm of unforeseen
proportions, the water overflowed into the P.'s farm, damaging it. The
flood would have happened even if the wickets were not clogged.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for D., court of appeals
4. Judge's Rule: When a flood itself is the sole cause of damage, and
the damage would have happened even if the D. had taken sufficient
action to be found not negligent, the D.'s negligence is not a proximate
cause of the damage.
5. Classical Holding: A person is not liable for damages that are not
proximately caused by his negligence.
6. Reasoning: Even if the D. would have unclogged the wickets, the flood
would have caused the damage anyway.
** Kingston v. Chicago & N.W. Ry., (1927)
2. Facts: D. is a railroad who set a fire when sparks from its train
ignited surrounding land. The fire set by D.'s negligence eventually
merged with another fire of unknown origin, and then the resulting fire
destroyed the P.'s house.
3. Procedural Posture: The lower court found for P.. D. appealed stating
that if the other fire was of unknown origin, he could not be held as a
joint tortfeasor, because he would not be liable if the other fire were
of natural origin and would have caused the same damage anyway.
4. Judge's Rule: When two negligently started fires of human origin meet
and become a single fire which causes damage, each of the negligent
persons who started the individual fires is jointly and severally liable
for the entire amount of damages.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that under the circumstances, there was
no reason to believe that the second fire was of natural causes. The D.
would have had the burden of showing that it was not caused by humans.
The damage caused by each of the individual fires could not have been
separated. Thus, even though the person who started the other fire was
unknown, the two negligent parties were each liable under joint and
Notes: 1. If the other fire was of natural causes, the D. would not be
liable because the damage would have happened anyway. If two fires are
separate, the first to do the damage should be liable, even if the other
was bearing down. [My opinion]. 2. Successive acts of negligence may be
treated as a joint tort if the damages are not separable. This may
result in one of the negligent parties paying more than his fair share
for the damages accruing from a confused situation that he helped to
** Summers v. Tice, (1948)
2. Facts: P. was shot in the face while flushing quail for D.'s during a
hunting trip. There were two shots that hit him, one in the eye, and one
in the lip. Although the one shot that hit P. in the eye could not have
come from both guns, there was no evidence which it did come from. P.
was not negligent in any way.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court held that the P. could bring
action against both D.'s as joint tortfeasors. D. appealed claiming that
the P. could not prove that his shot caused the injury.
4. Judge's Rule: When two persons both shoot in the direction of a
person who is injured by one of the shots, both persons are jointly
liable even though they did not act in concert to cause the injury.
5. Classical Holding: When several D.'s are similarly negligent, and a
P.'s injury is actually caused by only a subset of the D.'s, and it is
not possible for the P. to show which D.'s actions were the proximate
cause of his injuries, the P. may bring an action against each D. under
joint and several liability, even though the D.'s may not have been
acting in concert, and the burden of proof shifts to the D. to show his
6. Reasoning: To hold otherwise would be to make the P. internalize the
injury that he did not cause.
** Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories, (1980)
2. Facts: The P. was the daughter of a woman who was prescribed DES to
prevent a miscarriage while the P. was in utero. DES was found to cause
cancer, and the P. is trying to recover damages from her own cancer. The
D. was one of 100 or so manufacturers who made DES as a generic from a
common formula. The P. cannot prove that D. was the one who made the DES
that her mother actually ingested, nor can the D. prove that they were
not the actual manufacturer.
3. Procedural Posture: The D. demurred and trial court sustained the
demurrer without leave to amend based on P.'s admission that they could
not prove that the D. was the actual manufacturer.
4. Judges' Rule: Where several manufacturers of a product are named as
D.'s to a product liability action, and the P. cannot prove proximate
causation of any one manufacturer, and the manufacturers can not
disprove causation, the P. may bring action against a number of D.'s
jointly. If the combined market share of each of the D.'s is a
substantial percentage of the overall market, the burden of proof shifts
to the D.'s to disprove causation. Furthermore, the damages shall be
apportioned among D.'s in proportion to their individual market shares.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that as between an innocent P. and
negligent D.'s, the latter should bear the cost of the injury. They
relied upon the holding in Summers. Each D. could in turn bring action
against the remaining DES manufacturers not joined in the action to
recover their fair share. The court felt it was proper to introduce a
new theory to address the changing times. Otherwise, the D.'s would have
no deterrence, because they knew that they could be protected by their
relative anonymity if there were enough other manufacturers.
7. Dissent: The dissent reasoned that this would shift the power to P.
to go after the deep pockets, even though the probability that the D.
was the actual manufacturer was mathematically very slim. There would be
no "matching" between the P.'s injuries and the D.'s actions as was in
traditional tort theory.
** Ryan v. New York Central R. Co., (1866)
2. Facts: The D., by careless management of their engine, set fire to
their woodshed. The P.'s house, 130 ft away, caught fire because of
sparks blown onto it.
3. Procedural Posture: The D. moved for a non-suit, and the trial court
granted it. The court of appeals affirmed, and the P. appealed to the NY
4. Judge's Rule: A person is liable for the proximate results of his own
acts, but not for remote damages.
5. Classical Holding: When a person negligently starts a fire in his own
house, he is not liable for damages to his neighbor's house if it is
caught on fire by chance of the weather.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that to hold the D. liable would be to
cause him to insure against all damages that might be caused remotely if
a negligent fire caused by him spread, by chance, to damage several
houses. Each person living in an industrial society assumes the risk
that his neighbor might start a negligent fire that damages him by
chance. [This is a very narrow construction of the words "proximate" and
7. Notes: 2. In City of Lincoln, a ship went aground after losing its
navigational equipment in a collision with another ship. The other ship
was held to be negligent, and the also the proximate cause of the
grounding because the reasonable human conduct of the captain of the
City of Lincoln was to try to get his ship into port, even if he had no
navigational equipment. 3. If a D., by negligence, puts a P. under a
reasonable apprehension of personal physical injury, and P., in a
reasonable effort to escape, sustains physical injury, the negligence of
the D. is a proximate cause of the injury.
** Gorris v. Scott, (1874).
2. Facts: The D. lost several of the P.'s sheep at sea when they were
washed overboard. The loss would not have happened if the animals were
housed, as required by sanitation statutes, in certain pens, but the
statute was designed to prevent disease, not loss by falling overboard.
The D. sued for damages.
3. Procedural Posture: Unknown.
4. Judge's Rule: For an action to lie for negligence in violation of a
statute, the statute must have been intended to protect the D. against
the loss which resulted from its violation.
5. Classical Holding: Same as Judge's Rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the statute did not intend to
protect the D. from loss by being washed overboard, so an action did not
lie. However, if the loss was due to disease, then the violation of the
statute would have been the proximate cause of the loss, and the D.
would have been entitled to recovery.
7. Notes: 1. In Haen v. Rockwood Sprinkler Co., the violation of a
statute requiring the doors of a work elevator to be shut was held to be
a proximate cause of injury when a radiator fell on an employee, even
though the reason for the statute was to protect workers themselves from
** Berry v. The Borough of Sugar Notch, (1899).
2. Facts: The P. was exceeding the speed limit in the D. town during a
violent windstorm when an old and unstable chestnut tree fell on his car
and injured him. The P. sued for injuries claiming negligence on the
part of the town. The D. town claimed that the P. was contributorily
negligent in speeding.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for P., D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: A person's negligence is not a proximate cause of an
injury unless it is a contributing factor to the injury.
5. Classical Holding: A person is not contributorily negligent to an
injury that is the result of chance if he is speeding at the time of the
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the P. could have been injured
whether he was going slowly, or perhaps he would have avoided injury if
he were going even faster. Therefore, his speed was only coincidentally
related to the damage.
** Brower v. New York Central & H.R.R., (1918).
2. Facts: P.'s horse and cart was hit by the D.'s train because of D.'s
negligence. After the collision, thieves stole the barrels of goods that
were being carried on the cart. P. sued D. for recovery of the value of
the stolen goods, but D. claims that the intervening activity of the
thieves broke the chain of causation.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial judge found for P.. D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: "The act of a third person intervening and contributing
a condition necessary to the injurious effect of the original
negligence, will not excuse the first wrongdoer, if such act ought to
have been foreseen."
5. Classical Holding: When a negligent person puts another into a
position creating an opportunity for a third person to commit a
foreseeable injury against the victim, either intentionally or by
negligence, the original wrongdoer is liable for damages arising from
the action of the third party, as a joint tortfeasor.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that the cargo was "lost" at the
time of the accident because it put the P. in a position such that he
could not protect his cargo. The intervention of the thieves was deemed
foreseeable by the D. because they employed their own detectives to
7. Dissent: The dissent reasoned that the chain of cause was broken by
the active intervention of an independent criminal actor.
8. Notes: 2. The "last wrongdoer" theory blocks recovery when the
deliberate wrong, or even the negligence, of a third party intervenes.
However this doctrine does not work if the action of the third party is
foreseeable, such as when a doctor returns a battered child to his
abusive parents, even though he should have known they would beat the
child again. 3. The Restatement section 448 states that the intentional
tort is a superseding cause, breaking the causation, unless the original
wrongdoer should have realized that the third person might avail himself
of the opportunity to commit the crime. 4. If the D.'s act has come to
rest, but leaves the P. in a dangerous position, then there is causation
for the resultant actions of an intervening third party. If the D.'s
action has come to rest in a position of apparent safety, the chain is
** Wagner v. International Ry., (1921)
2. Facts: The P. and his cousin Herbert were riding in a train. The
conductor did not shut the doors before the train got underway, and
Herbert fell out and over a bridge as the train turned a corner. When
the train stopped on the other side of the bridge, the P. got out and
went back along the dark bridge to look for the body of Herbert. The P.
claims that the D.'s conductor instructed him to do so and followed him
with a light. The P. fell off the bridge in the darkness, and sued the
D. for negligence, claiming that the failure to close the door was the
cause of his injury because he was trying to rescue his cousin. The D.
denies that the conductor instructed the P. to walk out on the bridge or
followed P. with a light.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial judge charged the jury that the D. was
not liable unless the D.'s conductor actually did instruct the P. to go
out onto the bridge and did follow him with the light. The jury found
for D.. P. appealed claiming that the jury instruction limitations were
4. Judge's Rule: "The wrong that imperils life is a wrong to the
imperiled victim; it is also a wrong to his rescuer."
5. Classical Holding: The wrongdoer who negligently submits a victim to
injury is also liable to the rescuer who acts reasonably to rescue the
victim for any damages to the rescuer.
6. Reasoning: Cardozo reasoned that the D. should expect and foresee
that if they put a victim in harm's way, that someone will step forward
and attempt a rescue. He rejected the defense that the rescue was not
immediate and "instinctive", stating that the rescue does not need to be
continuous with the injury.
** In re Polemis & Furness, Withy & Co., (1921)
2. Facts: The P. is the owner of a cargo ship which was chartered to D..
While agents of the D. were unloading the ship, a heavy plank was
dropped by the offloaders and freakishly caused a spark which ignited
the gasoline onboard and destroyed the ship.
3. Procedural Posture: The arbitrators found that the offloaders were
negligent in dropping the plank because it could be reasonably
anticipated to cause damage to the ship.
4. Judge's Rule: Foreseeability is the test of negligence, but once
negligence is determined, it is not the absolute measure of causation.
5. Classical Holding: Once and act is determined to be negligent, the
negligent party is liable for all damages that were a direct result of
the negligent action, regardless of whether they could be foreseen.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the act was negligent because it
could have been anticipated to do damage to the ship. They rejected the
argument that a negligent person was entitled to rely on the fact that
he could not have anticipated the type of damage that would have
occurred. The fact that the spark was not the anticipated "type" of
damage did not make the cause of the damage remote, it was still a
direct result of the negligence.
** Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R., (1928)
2. Facts: A man was late for a train. He ran after the train and
attempted to baord it as it was moving. In his hand he held an unmarked
package. The D.'s employees, tried to help him onto the train, and in
doing so, the package was dropped under the train. It contained
fireworks which exploded and caused a scale at the other end of the
platform to fall on the P..
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found that the D.'s employees
were negligent and that negligence was the proximate cause of the P.'s
injuries. The Court of Appeals affirmed 3 to 2. The D. appealed,
claiming that their negligence was not the proximate cause of the P.'s
injuries because they could not reasonably foresee that the contents of
the package were explosive.
4. Judge's Rule: Negligence is not actionable unless it involves the
invasion of a legally protected interest, the violation of a right.
5. Classical Holding: A person is not liable for damages arising from
his negligence if his negligence was not the proximate cause of the
6. Reasoning: The majority (Cardozo) reasoned that the negligent act of
the train employees did not violate a duty owed to the P. who was
standing far away. Although the act may have been negligent toward the
owner for damage to the package, it was not negligent towards the P.
because they could not have foreseen that the package would have
contained explosives. He reasoned that knocking a package out of a
person's hand is not negligence toward someone who was so far away that
it was not foreseeable that they would be injured by the package.
7. Dissent: The dissent reasoned that the fact that the explosion was
unforeseeable did not relieve the D. of liability, since he was
determined to be negligent. He compared the case to Polemis, and stated
that the liability of the D. was not confined to those who might
possibly be hurt.
** Overseas Tankship (U.K.) Ltd. v. Morts Dock & Engineering Co. Ltd.
(The Wagon Mound (No. 1)), (1961).
2. Facts: The D.s carelessly discharged oil from their ship while
berthed in Sydney harbor. The oil drifted over and pooled around P.'s
shipbuilding dock, where welding operations were ongoing. The P.'s dock
supervisor suspended welding operations until he determined that the oil
was not flammable while it was floating on the water [huh?], and when
the welding was recommenced, the sparks set fire to some debris floating
in the oil slick, and a conflagration ensued which destroyed the dock.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial judge found that the D. could not have
been expected to know that the oil was capable of being set afire when
spread on water, but that the fire was a "direct result" of the D.'s
negligently spilling the oil, and therefore under the Polemis rule, was
liable for all direct damages whether or not they could be foreseen. D.
appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: A person is only liable for the probable consequences
of his negligent acts. The probable consequences are judged by the
standard of foreseeability by the reasonable man.
5. Classical Holding: The test of liability for negligence is
foreseeability of the injury caused by that negligence.
6. Reasoning: The court directly overruled Polemis, stating that is was
bad law which resulted in unfair results. They reasoned that it was
better policy to hold a person accountable for the probable consequences
of his action so as to avoid an unjust result when slight negligence,
which normally resulted in only minor damages, freakishly resulted in
major damage. It also avoids the controversies of establishing chain of
7. Notes: 1. The Wagon Mound rule of foreseeability of damages presents
problems when the damages are neither routine nor freakish, but in the
middle. Then the test becomes significance; if the unusualness of the
details is significant in the outcome of the damage, then the damage was
unforeseeable; if not significant, then the damage was foreseeable. 2.
The foreseeability rule also brings up subtleties of damage. In Doughty
v. Turner Mfg. Co., Ltd., the court held that when an asbestos lid was
dropped into a vat of boiling chemicals, damage by splashing was
foreseeable, but not damage by violent explosion. Contrast Hughes v.
Lord Advocate, where the explosion of a paraffin lamp was held to be
foreseeable, because it was not a "different type" of damage than that
by burning. 3. The thin skull rule, or "you take your victim as you find
him" was apparently left unshaken by Wagon Mound. 4. Polemis and Wagon
Mound can be reconciled (directness with foreseeability) if one examines
the causal intervention of the P. in Wagon Mound. In Polemis, there was
no intervention between the dropping of the board and the explosion. In
Wagon Mound, the P. had to light the fire. There could have been a
defense of assumption of risk or contributory negligence when the P.
recommenced welding operations. Furthermore, the Hand Formula could come
into play if either party knew that there was a very slight possibility
of fire, but failed to prevent it because it was too costly. 5. In the
U.S., in Kinsman Transit Co., the court held that "unforeseeability is
irrelevant if damage is direct" when a ship broke loose from its
moorings, and drifted downstream to eventually block the river and cause
substantial flooding damage. They reasoned that just because the risk of
large damage is slight, that it should not be excused if it was direct.
** Dillon v. Legg, (1968)
2. Facts: P. was the mother of a child who was killed when the D.
negligently hit her with his car. The mother was standing far enough
away that she was in no personal danger of being hit by the car. P. sued
for damages from emotional distress from watching her child be killed by
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found that the mother was not in
the "zone of danger", and so was not entitled to recover because she did
not fear for her own safety. The mother appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: In determining whether the D. owes a duty of care to
the P., the court should consider the following: 1) the proximity of the
P. to the accident, 2) whether the P. directly witnessed the accident,
and 3) whether the P. was closely related to the victim.
5. Classical Holding: Foreseeability of the risk is the chief element in
determining whether a D. owes a duty of care to a P..
6. Reasoning: The court refused to limit the D.'s liability for
emotional damages only to those within the artificially constructed
"zone of danger". They stated that although opening the D.'s liability
further would lead to fraudulent claims, that is a part of every tort
case. They reasoned that foreseeability was the test of due care. The D.
is more likely to foresee the risk of injury to bystanders when they are
closely related witnesses who are near to the victim at the time of the
** Weirum v. RKO General, Inc., (1975)
2. Facts: The D. radio station was holding a summer contest. The object
of the contest was to entice listeners to be the first to arrive at a
particular location, where they would be given a reward. 2 kids, eager
to be the first ones to reach the location, were speeding along the
highway and forced the P.'s car into a ditch, killing him.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P., and the Court of
Appeals reversed, saying that the radio station had no control over the
negligent actions of the drivers.
4. Judge's Rule: "If the likelihood that a third person may react in a
particular manner is a hazard which makes the actor negligent, such
reaction whether innocent or negligent does not prevent the actor from
being liable for the harm caused thereby."
5. Classical Holding: When the negligence of a third party is encourage
by affirmative action of the actor, then it becomes foreseeable, and
exposes the actor for liability for the negligent acts of the third
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the D. radio station owed a duty
to the P. because the risk of injury by speeding teens was foreseeable.
They stated that the contest was designed to be a "competitive scramble
in which the thrill of the chase" was the goal to excite listeners. As
such, the radio station was negligent in encouraging the negligence of
the drivers, and so was liable for damages resulting from the driver's
negligence. The chain of causation was not broken due to third party
intervention, because it was the negligence of the radio station that
caused the ultimate injury by encouraging negligence of drivers.
1, Buch v. Amory manufacturing Co., (1897).
2. Facts: P. is an 8 year old boy who wandered into D.'s factory. The D.
warned him to leave, but the P. did not speak English. The P. then had
his hand crushed in some machinery gears while fooling around with his
brother, who was one of D.'s employees.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court denied a motion for directed
verdict. Verdict for P. was set aside, and D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: A person is not liable to a trespasser for damages that
arise without the person's negligence.
5. Classical Holding: A person who is not acting negligently does not
have a legal duty to rescue a helpless trespasser from being injured.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the mere fact that the child was
not able to take care of himself was not sufficient to put the duty on
the D. to forcibly eject him from the factory. The D. did not have the
duty to prevent the trespass, only the duty not to negligently injure
the P.. The D. was not doing any negligent thing, even if he should have
known that the P. could not speak English. The duty to prevent harm from
coming to a stranger is a moral obligation only and not a legal one.
Ames, Law and Morals (1908)
I. Traditional approach to liability for failing to rescue
A. The law has been traditionally indifferent to a person who could
have saved another, so long as the victim was not put into danger by the
negligence of the bystander.
B. It is only up to a person's own conscience whether he is a good
Samaritan or not.
II. Proposed Good Samaritan Rule (3 cases)
A. A person who would have to go to more than a little inconvenience
to save a person from death or great bodily harm - No liability.
1. Ex: Doctor from Calcutta does not make the long journey to Meerut
to save a patient who will die otherwise.
B. A person who fails to interfere to save another from impending
death or great bodily harm, when he might do so with little or no
inconvenience, and the death or great bodily harm follows as a result of
the inaction. - Should be liable both criminal and civil.
1. Ex: person on bridge fails to throw rope to drowning man.
2. Ex: bystander fails to remove small child from railroad track when
there is no danger of being hit.
C. A person, acting innocently (without negligence), brings about a
dangerous situation. - Should be liable.
1. Ex: hunter whose shot hits another in the eye, and the other falls
into the water and drowns while the hunter stands by.
Epstein, A Theory of Strict Liability (1973)
I. Ames' good Samaritan rule infringes on personal freedom, because
bounds can't be put easily on it.
A. Ex: If a charity approaches you and asks for $10 to save a starving
child, and $10 is means very little to you, are you required to give
because it is certain that someone will die if you do not? - NO.
II. Ames' Good Samaritan rule, which requires strangers to confer
benefit on strangers when it poses "little or no convenience" to the
good Samaritan, would result in a weakening of contract law.
A. If the traveling doctor were paid, how much would he have to be
paid in order to be required to make the inconvenient or costly trip?
All a potential patient would have to pay is enough to make he
difference between his payment and the fair market value of the doctor's
services small enough that it would not be inconvenient for the doctor
to make the trip, thus undercutting the contract.
Notes: 1. The affirmative duty to rescue could be viewed as a large
contract among all of the general public, who all decided that they
should require someone if it is a negligible cost to himself. Then, a
person would bear the risk that it might cost him to rescue someone, but
he would not have to fear that he would lose if he were the one in
trouble. 2. Restitution is an alternative to tort -->tort ompensation. Although
it is smaller than the amount of tort compensation, it creates the
incentive in the rescuer while eliminating the liability to multiple
persons who stand by but do not act. 3. Some states have statutes that
immunize rescuers from ordinary negligence liability (but not gross
negligence or intentional torts), and some states even impose
affirmative duties to rescue, subject to the payment of fines.
** Montgomery v. National Convoy and Trucking Co., (1937).
2. Facts: The D.'s trucks stalled on an icy highway at the bottom of a
hill. The stalled trucks were not visible from the other side of the
hill, and once a car reached the top of the hill, it could not stop in
time to avoid the trucks because of the icy conditions. The D. laid out
flares, but did not put them where an oncoming car would be able to see
them in time. The P. came over the hill and crashed into the trucks.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P.. D. appealed to this
court which affirmed.
4. Judge's Rule: A person is liable for omission of acts that the
reasonably prudent person would do to prevent injury to another, when
the danger to the other was created by the person.
5. Classical Holding: A person in a stalled car on the highway must take
sufficient action to warn oncoming traffic of the hazard in time to
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the D. drivers owed a duty of care
to the oncoming traffic to prevent injury to them. Therefore, it was
negligent of the D. to fail to warn oncoming traffic at a point where it
would have prevented them from crashing into the trucks.
7. Notes: 1. The difference between misfeasance and nonfeasance matters
most in cases where the D. has not created the danger; for misfeasance
he is liable, and for nonfeasance he is not. It is less critical in
cases where the D. has created the danger, because either will result in
liability. 2. In a system of strict liability, there is no need to
create a duty to rescue for someone who has created the danger to P.. In
that case, the D. would already be motivated to warn the P. so as to
avoid liability, or at least reduce it due to P.'s assumption of risk or
contributory negligence if he saw the warning but continued to proceed.
3. 322 of the Restatement imposes an affirmative duty to rescue a
person you have already harmed (even without negligence) from further
harm. For example, if you hit an illegal alien running across the road,
you can't simply drive on even if they were completely at fault. You
must stop to render aid. 4. Once a person begins a good Samaritan act,
they are required not to make any negligent acts or omissions in the
care of the person, nor may he leave the person in a worse position than
when he started. (324 Restatement). However, if A comes upon the scene
of an accident, and begins to take an injured B to the hospital, but
then A changes his mind and brings B back to the scene how he found B,
it is arguable that A left B in a worse position, because now B has lost
valuable time in which someone else might have helped him. 5. 327
Restatement requires that a person who "knows or has reason to know that
a third person is giving or is ready to give aid necessary physical
harm" to him is tortiously liable if he "negligently prevents or
disables the third person from giving such aid."
** Robert Addie & Sons (Collieries), Ltd. v. Dumbreck, (1929)
2. Facts: The D. is the operator of a winch an pulley system at a coal
mine. The system consists of a large wheel, which drives a long cable to
hoist coal ashes out of the mine. The wheel is driven by a motor, and is
only operated intermittently. The wheel assembly is located in an open
field, owned by the D.. Many kids play in the field, but the D. warns
them away, and tries to keep people out of the field. The P.'s son was
playing in and around the wheel, when it started up, killing the boy.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for the P., and D.
4. Judge's Rule: A landowner owes no duty of care to protect a
trespasser from injury, even from concealed danger.
5. Classical Holding: A landowner does not owe a duty of reasonable care
to a trespasser when the landowner takes reasonable steps to prevent
trespassers from entering and remaining on his property.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that there were three classes of
persons who find themselves on other's property: invitees to which the
landowner owes a duty of reasonable care to make sure the premises are
safe, licensees who are not there by invitation, but are allowed to
remain, to which the landowner owes a duty not to create a trap or
concealed danger, and trespassers, to which the landowner owes no duty
except to refrain from intentional harm. The court found that the D.'s
actions in warning children away were sufficient to classify the P.'s
son as a trespasser, and not a licensee. Thus, the D. owed no duty of
care to protect the child from the danger of the wheel.
7. Notes: 1. In Excelsior Wire Rope Co., Ltd. v. Callan, the court was
faced with nearly identical facts, however it found that the D. was
reckless because the field was swarming with children, and the D. knew
that there were likely to be children playing on the wheel when they
started it up. The court in Gould v. DeBeve used the "willful and wanton
misconduct" rule to find a D. liable for injury to a trespassing child
because the D. had failed to replace the defective window screen that
the P.'s son fell through, even though the D. had been asked repeatedly
to replace it. 2. A person who trespasses accidentally on land that is
adjacent to a public highway can recover from the land owner for damages
caused by the landowner failing to provide reasonable care against the
foreseeable accidental trespasser. 3. Attractive nuisance - the P. was
lured onto the D.'s land as a trespasser by some attractive condition
created and maintained by the D. This theory has the danger of being
over-applied because most things can be made into attractive playthings
by the imagination of a child. 4. The Restatement (Second) states that
D.s are liable for "Artificial Conditions" that are dangerous to
trespassing children if they are located in a place where the D. "knows
or has reason to know" that children will play there, involve an
unreasonable risk of great bodily harm, a child could not discover the
danger because of its youth, the cost of preventing the danger is
"slight", and the D. fails to exercise reasonable care to protect a
trespassing child. However, the D. is under no duty to investigate the
land to determine whether trespassing children are present. 5. An ice
cream vendor may be held liable for injuries to children who run out
onto a busy street after them under the "pied piper" theory, because the
ice cream vendor lured the children into danger. 6. According to
Restatement 332, an invitee is either a public invitee or a business
visitor, based on the nature of the premises. In Lemon v. Busey, a child
died after falling from a roof of a church where she was playing while
her grandmother was working there. The child reached the roof by going
through an unlocked fire escape door which should have been locked.
However, the court found that she was only a licensee, not an invitee,
and so the church did not have a duty to protect her from the unsafe
condition of the unlocked door. 7. Public officials like police and
mailmen are treated mostly as licensees because they often enter in odd
places at unusual times when they cannot expect the landowner to provide
standard precautions. However, the duty of care depends heavily on when
and where the person enters, and if they can be expected.
** Rowland v. Christian, (1968).
2. Facts: The P. was a social guest in the D.'s house. He went to the
bathroom and cut his hand badly on a porcelain handle that was cracked,
but did not appear to the casual observer to be dangerous because it had
not yet broken. The D. knew that the handle needed replacement, but did
not warn the P. of the danger.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for the D.. They classified
the P. as a licensee under law and concluded that the D. did not owe a
duty to P. to protect him from concealed dangers.
4. Judge's Rule: A person is liable for damages to a guest on his
property the owner has not acted reasonably to protect the guest from
injury. Although the P.'s status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee
may, in light of the facts, have some bearing on the question of
liability the status is not determinative.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the old common law distinction of
the status of the guest was rigid and meaningless in the modern world.
They reasoned that the classifications grew out of tradition which dated
back to the status of a landowner during the feudal times. Therefore,
they reduced the test of liability to the common test of negligence. If,
in light of all the facts, the D. did not take reasonable steps to
prevent injury to the P., then he is liable. The P.'s status as a
trespasser is only one of those facts.
7. Notes: 1. Other states are mixed in their adoption of Rowland. 2.
With the onset of strict liability in products liability cases, some
have sought to apply the same to liability for landlords engaged in the
business of leasing dwellings, under the theory that the landlord is in
a better position to bear the costs of injuries by latent defects in the
property. This tends to promote more household safety at the expense of
holding a morally blameless landlord liable for defects he did not
discover. 3. A landowner is now under the duty to provide reasonable
care to a trespasser who he knows has fallen into a dangerous condition
on the landowner's premises. In Pridgen v. Boston Housing Authority, a
boy was trespassing when he climbed out of the top of an escape hatch in
an elevator, but the D. was still liable for his injuries because the D.
failed to shut down the elevator once he knew of the boy's predicament.
4. There can also be liability for injuries resulting to strangers from
the "natural" conditions of the D.'s land. In Taylor v. Olsen, the court
held that the negligence was not in planting a tree, but in allowing it
to remain in a dangerous area where it was likely to cause damage to
passersby. A landowner may not escape liability by simply allowing
nature to take its course if the resultant injury was avoidable. 5. Some
states have passed statutes that limit the landowner's liability for
injuries that occur on land which is open to the public for recreational
purposes (i.e. hunting and fishing) fearing that stricter laws would
result in less recreational land.
** Coggs v. Bernard, (1703).
2. Facts: The D. moved casks of brandy belonging to the P. from one
place to another. Through the D.'s negligence, some of the casks were
damaged, spilling lots of brandy.
3. Procedural Posture: The lower court found for the P., and the D.
appealed claiming that the act was gratuitous and that there was no
consideration to support the contract, thus he did not owe a duty of
care to the P. to protect his casks from negligent damage.
4. Judge's Rule: "The owner's trusting him with the goods is a
sufficient consideration to oblige him to careful management."
5. Classical Holding: A person who undertakes to move another's property
from one place to another is under a duty to take reasonable precautions
to protect the property from harm.
6. Reasoning: The court relied upon the notion of consideration to show
that a contract was present. The consideration was similar to the modern
day promissory estoppel where the P. had relied upon the promise of the
** Erie R.R. v. Stewart, (1930).
2. Facts: The P. was a passenger in a car which was hit by one of the
D.'s trains at a railroad crossing. The crossing was normally guarded by
a watchman who warned cars of the oncoming train. However, on this
occasion the watchman was not present in time to prevent the accident.
There was no statutory obligation to provide a watchman.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for P., and D. appealed
claiming that the court erred in instructing the jury that if the
watchman had been present for a long period of time, then to remove him
was negligence as a matter of law.
4. Judge's Rule: Where a train company has established the presence of a
watchman for such a long time as to establish it as a duty of reasonable
care, the train company is liable for negligence when the watchman is
5. Classical Holding: Where an actor has taken precautions that are not
required by statute, but are provided to protect others from hazards
which the actor has created, the presence of these precautions over a
long period of time establishes a standard of care to which the actor
must comply to protect the reliance of the potential victims.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that although the railroad company was
not required by statute to provide a watchman, the fact that they had
for so long establishes the watchman's presence as a standard of care.
The court reasoned that passersby had come to rely on the presence of a
watchman when trains were coming, so the absence of the watchman implied
that a train was not coming. The railroad should know that a passerby
would rely on the watchman, and so they should anticipate the injury if
they removed the watchman without sufficient notice as to negate the
** Marsalis v. LaSalle, (1957).
2. Facts: The P. was bitten by the D.'s cat. The P. suspected that the
cat might be rabid, and so asked the D. to keep the cat under
observation for two weeks. The D. promised to do so, but however let the
cat out negligently. When the P. found out that the cat had run off, she
was forced to receive the painful rabies injection as a precaution. P.
had an allergic reaction to the vaccine.
3. Procedural Posture: Trial court found for P., D. appealed.
4. Judge's Rule: When a person promises to take action to protect
another person, and the other person foregoes other means of protection
in reliance on the promise, the promisor is liable for damages if he
then breaches the promise by failing to take reasonable action to
protect the other person.
5. Classical Holding: As stated in Restatement (Second) of Torts:
Section 323: One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to
render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for
the protection of the other's person or things, is subject to liability
to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise
reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if:
(a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such
(b) the harm is suffered because of the other's reliance upon the
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the allowing the bit was not the
negligent action, because there was no history of biting. However, once
the D. undertook the promise to watch the cat, he became bound when the
P. relied upon that promise. The negligent act was letting the cat out,
and it was also the proximate cause of the P.'s injuries because
otherwise, the shots would not have been required.
** Kline v. 1500 Massachusetts Avenue Apartment Corp., (1970)
2. Facts: The P. is a resident of the D.'s apartment complex. When she
moved in in 1959, there were security personnel guarding the entrance
ways. After several years these security measures evaporated. Assaults
and thefts began to happen in the common areas. The D. was aware of the
increase in crime. P. was assaulted by an intruder in a common hallway
in 1966, after the D. had stopped providing security measures in the
common hallways. The D., as the landlord, was the only person who could
have provided security.
3. Procedural Posture: The case was originally tried in the District
Court, which found that there was no duty of a landlord to protect
tenants from foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties. The
P. appealed to this court.
4. Judge's Rule: A landlord has a duty to protect it's tenants from
foreseeable criminal acts committed by third parties in the common areas
under the exclusive control of the landlord.
5. Classical Holding: A landlord is liable for damages if he does not
take reasonable measures of protection which are within his power and
capacity to take to protect tenants from assault from third parties.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that the landlord was in a special
relationship with the tenant, because the landlord had exclusive control
of the common areas through which the tenant had to pass to get to his
apartment. The tenant was powerless to take precautions in the common
area on his own behalf. Thus, the landlord should have a duty to act on
the tenant's behalf, to provide for their safety. Since the landlord had
prior notice of the type of crime, it was a foreseeable risk, not merely
a possible risk.
7. Dissent: The dissent reasoned that the P. did not show that it was an
intruder who attacked her, thus there was a problem of causation. If the
attack was by a resident, the lack of guards at entryways would not be a
proximate cause. Furthermore, the dissent rejected the contract-based
reliance argument that the tenant had relied on the security measures
that were present when she moved in. The tenant was aware of the changes
in security as they happened, thus she did have to power to avoid the
danger, by moving to a higher security complex.
Notes: 1. There is a limit to this duty. In Wassell v. Adams, the P. was
raped when she answered her hotel room door in the middle of the night
expecting her fiancee. She claimed that the hotel had a duty to warn her
of the possibility of high crime in the hotel at night. The court held
that it was common knowledge not to open a hotel door in the middle of
the night, so there was no duty. 2. Condominium complex boards of
directors were held liable in Frances v. Village Green Owners Assn., for
the misfeasance of requiring a tenant to take down external lighting
that she had installed on her own to combat the rising crime in the
complex, and nonfeasance for not installing proper lighting to protect
the common areas. The majority analogized to Kline, holding that for all
practical purposes, the board was the landlord, even thought they did
not get paid, because they exercised exclusive control over the common
areas. 3. The liability of a common carrier is extended to public
transportation in Lopez v. So. Cal. RTD, where a group of juveniles
attacked a passenger, and the bus driver took no action to prevent it.
Also the "landlord-tenant" liability has been extended to public
facilities such as state colleges, even though the institution does not
operate commercially for profit. 4. Foreseeability does not necessarily
require prior similar acts. If it does, then the first victim loses. It
should be an ordinary question of fact.
** Tarasoff v. Regents of the Univ. of Cal., (1976)
2. Facts: The P.s are the family of a girl who was killed by a patient
of the D.'s psychiatrist. The patient revealed to the psychiatrist
beforehand his intention to kill the girl, and the psychiatrist believed
him. Because of the danger, the psychiatrist had the patient detained,
but the police later let him go when he seemed rational. The P.s claim
that the psychiatrist owed a duty to them to warn them of the danger
posed by the killer, and that the failure to warn them was a proximate
cause of the murder.
3. Procedural Posture: The superior court found that the P.s did not
state a cause of action under their facts, and sustained D.s demurrers.
4. Judge's Rule: A doctor who knows, or should know, that his patient is
likely to harm another has a duty to warn the potential victim of the
5. Classical Holding: When a doctor knows that his patient is likely to
harm another has a duty to warn the potential victim of the danger.
6. Reasoning: The majority reasoned that although there did not
initially exist a special relationship between the psychiatrist and the
victim, one arose when he became, or should have become, aware of the
patient's intent to kill the victim. Under the Restatement (Second), the
special relationship extends to the foreseeable victim of the conduct.
They reasoned that the ethical confidential relationship between a
doctor and a patient was outweighed by the public interest in safety.
The privilege of communication is lost when the patient is a danger to
others or to himself. They further stated, in dicta, that a doctor could
be liable even if he did not actually know of the danger, as long as he
should have known by exercising ordinary skill.
7. Dissent: Mosk partially dissented, stating the holding very narrowly,
requiring the doctor to have actual notice of the danger. Other
dissenters felt that the decision impaired the ability of doctors to
treat patients effectively.
8. Notes: 1. In Thompson v. County of Alameda, the court found that a
duty to warn did not exist. The murderer in Thompson indicated to the
public welfare system that he would "if released, take the life of a
young child residing in the neighborhood." Although no particular person
was identified, the juvenile murdered the P.'s son within 24 hours of
his release. The court distinguished from Tarasoff, finding that the
threat was non-specific enough that warning the neighborhood would be
difficult and would have done little to increase the safety of the
neighborhood. [Huh?]. A dissenting judge argued that the juvenile's
custodian should have been warned so that she could have taken
precautions. The governing statute now reads that the duty to warn
arises only when the victim is "reasonably identifiable", and the
therapist must make reasonable efforts to warn the victim as well as
** Baker v. Snell, (1908)
2. Facts: The P. is a maidservant of the D.. The D. owned a dog that was
ferocious and prone to biting. The D. had a potman who was in charge of
keeping the dog safe. The potman released the dog on the P. as a
practical joke, and the dog bit her. The potman was acting in the employ
of the D. at the time.
3. Procedural Posture: The lower court found for the P.. D. appealed
claiming that the D. was not responsible for the bite because of the
intervening negligence of the potman.
4. Judge's Rule: Whoever keeps an animal that is dangerous by nature, or
that the owner knows is dangerous, is prima facie liable for damages to
anyone attacked by that animal, unless it can be shown that the person
attacked had brought the injury upon himself.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court stated that the potman did not have an
independent grudge against the P., but rather he was simply being
negligent in his duty to keep the dog. They stated that it is wrongful
for a person to keep a wild dangerous animal, and so they should be
required to keep control of it at their own peril. They broke dangerous
animals into two classes: those that were generally known to be
dangerous, and those that were not generally known to be dangerous, but
which the owner knew that particular animal was dangerous. Unless the
animal was harmless, the owner was strictly liable.
7. Notes: 1. In Denver v. Kennedy, the rule of strict liability was
found not to apply to zoos because the policy of having zoos was
important to the public, however, negligence was still held as a
standard. 2. Strict liability for trespassing animals (such as
livestock) does not extend to damages that are not reasonably to be
expected from the intrusion, or brought about by the unexpected
operation of a force of nature or reckless or negligent conduct of a
third person. 3. Assumption of risk was found to be an affirmative
defense in Rubenstein v. United States, where the P. was a camper who
was attacked by a bear after he was warned not to camp in the open in
Yellowstone Park, but disregarded the ranger's warning. 4. "Distress
damage feasant" is the taking of chattels (such as livestock) which are
doing damage to the land of another, and holding them until damages are
paid for by the owner. This practice only works under strict liability.
5. In some of the plain states in the U.S., the owner of private
property is required to "fence out" trespassing animals, unless it is
shown that the owner of the animals intentionally caused their animals
to trespass. 6. Under the Coase theorem, statutes favoring the farmer,
which require ranchers to control their cattle and keep them from
trespassing even if there is no fence, are the most favorable because
they allow the farmer to make a deal with the rancher to lease part of
his land. Thus, the most efficient use of adjoining lands are reached.
** Spano v. Perini Corp., (1969)
2. Facts: The P. owns a garage adjoining a vacant lot owned by the D..
The D. was in the process of blasting the lot to dig a tunnel as part of
a contract with the city. Flying debris from the explosion damaged the
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for the P., even though
there was no showing of negligence. The Court of Appeals reversed,
holding that a precedent case required showing of negligence.
4. Judge's Rule: "Since blasting involves a substantial risk of harm no
matter the degree of care exercised," a person who engages in blasting
is strictly liable for damages to adjoining property resulting from the
5. Classical Holding: A person who engages in activities which require
the use of explosives is prima facie strictly liable for foreseeable
damages to other's property.
6. Reasoning: The court expressly overruled the precedent case. They
reasoned that this was an issue of conflicting use of adjoining lands,
but ruled in favor of the P., because to hold otherwise would allow the
D. to blast to such an extent that it completely destroyed the P.'s use
of his own land. They reasoned that although the D. had the right to
blast on his own land, he should not force the P. to internalize the
damages because blasting is so dangerous, it causes damage even when
done properly. Although it was not necessary to the decision the court
further intimated that the fact that damage occurred was res ipsa
loquitur that the D. was negligent in his blasting.
7. Notes: 1. Historically, direct damages of the blast were viewed as
trespass, thus strict liability without fault, while indirect damages by
concussion or vibration were viewed as case, and thus subject to a
I. Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 519
A. One who carries on abnormally dangerous activity is subject to
liability even if he is exercising the utmost care to prevent the harm.
B. This strict liability is limited only to the kind of harm which
makes the activity abnormally dangerous.
1. Ex: A person is not strictly liable for damages caused by the
crash of a truck carrying explosives.
II. Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 520
A. In determining whether an activity is abnormally dangerous, the
following factors are considered:
1. existence of a high degree of risk of harm,
2. likelihood that the harm will be great
3. inability to eliminate the risk by reasonable care,
4. extent to which the activity is not common usage,
a. customarily carried on by the great mass of mankind or the
b. "non-reciprocal" risks.
5. inappropriateness of the activity to the place,
6. extent to which the value to the community outweighs the dangerous
B. The activity must be necessary, otherwise it is simply negligent,
and there is no need for strict liability.
C. Dangerous activity may constitute an nuisance if it substantially
impairs the use and enjoyment of the neighbors.
D. Determination of what is abnormally dangerous is a function of the
court, not the jury.
E. Policy: put the burden of loss on the person who created the
abnormally high risk instead of the victim.
** Siegler v. Kuhlman, (1973)
2. Facts: The P. was 17 year old girl who was killed in the resulting
explosion when the D.'s gasoline tanker separated from the truck's cab,
and spilled the gasoline all over the road. The D. was not negligent in
the hook up of the tank, it separated due to a link which parted under
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court found for D., and refused to
allow a res ipsa loquitur doctrine. The court of appeals reversed.
4. Judge's Rule: The transportation of gasoline in large commercial
quantities is a abnormally dangerous activity which subjects the actor
to strict liability for foreseeable damages arising from the escape of
the gasoline without the intervention of any outside force beyond the
control of the actor.
5. Classical Holding: Same as judge's rule.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the nature of the risk to the
general public, combined with the severity of the foreseeable damages if
the gasoline exploded, made this an abnormally dangerous activity. They
cited to Rylands. Furthermore, they stated that much of the evidence of
negligence would be destroyed in the resulting explosion, therefore
leading to problems of proof. Additionally, the owner was in a better
position to spread the loss by passing it on to customers, as well as
holding the manufacturer of the failed link accountable.
** Madsen v. East Jordan Irrigation Co., (1942)
2. Facts: The P. used a farm to raise minks. The P. owned adjoining land
on which he was blasting. The shock from the blast frightened the mother
minks so much that they killed their young, as minks are prone to do.
3. Procedural Posture: The lower court sustained a demurrer for the D.,
on the grounds that the P. failed to state a cause of action because the
injury to the minks was not a foreseeable result of the blasting.
4. Issue: Did the mother minks' actions break the chain of causation
from the D.'s blasting, and therefore require an allegation of
5. Holding: Yes. Where an animal intervenes and takes an unanticipated
action which causes damage, the chain of causation from the abnormally
hazardous activity is broken, and the D. is no longer strictly liable,
but rather liable only for negligence.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the peculiar nature of the minks
was one which was unanticipated. It was not one of the foreseeable
dangers to which the P. was exposed from the blasting activities. It was
not a physical result of the explosion, but rather the result of a quirk
in the personalities of the minks.
7. Notes: 3. A P. is barred from recovery for 1) assumption of risk, 2)
contributory negligence in unreasonably subjecting himself to the danger
(but not other types of contributory negligence), and 3) if the injury
would not have occurred except for the abnormally sensitive nature of
the P.'s activity.
** Winterbottom v. Wright, (1842)
2. Facts: The D. contracted with the Postmaster to provide mail coaches.
The P. was a driver of the coach, and was injured when one of the
coaches he was driving broke down because of a latent defect, presumably
one which the D. negligently failed to correct before shipping.
3. Procedural Posture: The D. demurred, claiming that he owed no duty to
the P. because the contract for the coaches was with the Postmaster, and
he was simply a third party not in privity with the contracting parties.
Trial court sustained the demurrer. This court affirms.
4. Issue: Is the D. liable to third party users of his equipment when it
breaks down due to latent defects, even though the P. was not in privity
with the contracting parties (the Postmaster and the D.)?
5. Holding: No. A contractor, manufacturer or vendor is not liable to
third parties who have no contractual relations with him for negligence
in the construction, manufacture or sale of the article he handles.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the driver was only a third party,
and so the D. did not owe any duty to him in negligence under the duty
created by his contract with the Postmaster. To allow this recovery,
they thought, would be to open the gates wide for too many law suits.
They saw the action as grounded in contract. After the D. had done
everything to satisfy his contractual obligation to the Postmaster, the
third party P., who had no privity to the contract, should not be
allowed to "rip" open the settlement of the contract by bringing a tort
7. Notes: The American courts carved out some exceptions to the rule in
Winterbottom. First, that a third party should be able to recover for
damages from equipment designed to save lives (such as medical
equipment) which was negligently made; Second, a third party should
recover for any reasonably foreseeable damages when the manufacturer or
seller knows that the product is dangerous, and does not give notice.
** MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., (1916).
2. Facts: The P. was injured in a car manufactured by the D. when the
one of the wheels broke while diriving. The wheel was not made by the
D.; it was bought from another manufacturer. There was evidence,
however, that the defects could have been discovered by reasonable
inspection, and that inspection was omitted.
3. Procedural Posture: The P. sued under a negligence theory. The Court
of Appeal affirmed a trial verdict for the P.. D. appealed to this
4. Issue: Does the D., as the manufacturer of the product, owe a duty of
care to the P., as an end user, even though the D. and the P. had no
contractual relationship because the P. bought the car from a dealer?
5. Holding: [Cardozo] A person who supplies a product for the purpose of
the use of another person, when it is reasonably foreseeable that harm
would occur to the user if the product were not supplied with due care
and skill, and which the supplier knows will be used by the third person
without further inspection or testing to reveal danger, owes a duty to
the user to use ordinary care and skill in supplying the product.
6. Reasoning: Cardozo reasoned that the previous distinction between
thrid party users and contractors in privity was not governing. The D.
knew that the P. was a member of the class of persons likely to use the
car, and likely to be injured if the car was not built properly. In
building the car for that specific purpose, he owed the users a duty of
care. The duty extended beyond the dealer, because the D. knew that the
car would be resold without any additional checking for danger to the
user. The dealer was only a middleman. The court also stated that the D.
was liable even though he did not manufacture the actual wheel, because
he put the finished product together. The D. thus had the final
opportunity to inspect the wheel for damage, and should be held
accountable for its safety.
** Escola v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Fresno, (1944)
2. Facts: The P. was a waitress. As part of her job, she was putting
bottles of Coca Cola which had been delivered to her restaurant into the
refrigerator. As she put one of the bottles in, it exploded in her hand,
causing severe injuries.
3. Procedural Posture: The P. alleged that the D. was selling bottles
which were dangerous, either because they were overpressurized, or
because of latent defects in the glass. The jury entered a verdict for
the P., which was affirmed on appeal. The Court of Appeal used res ipsa
loquitur to find the D. negligent.
4. Issue: Is the D. liable for damages to the P., even if the D. can
make a showing that the bottle was manufactured without any negligence
(which is a defense to res ipsa loquitur)?
5. Holding: Yes. A manufacturer is strictly liable for damages to
consumers when he sells a product which he knows, or should know, will
be used by consumers without any further inspection for defects.
6. Reasoning: The court [Traynor], held that negligence was no longer
the standard for products liability. Public policy demands that
responsibility for damages from products be fixed where it will most
effectively reduce the hazards to the public. The manufacturer can then
spread the cost to the public at large by increasing prices to cover the
liability. He went on to state that although the retailer could be held
liable as well, it would be much more efficient to allow the victim to
go directly against the manufacturer under an implied warranty. The
consumer does not have the power to ensure his own safety because the
product is normally packaged at the time of sale. Furthermore, the
representations of the manufacturer create a reliance in the consumer.
7. Notes: Traynor justified his holding with a number of arguments: a)
D. is in the best position to avoid the loss. However, this argument
won't stand alone because simply because the D. is a business; b) the D.
can spread the loss - also won't stand alone simply because the D. is a
business; c) Elimination of proof complications - expressly to avoid res
ipsa loquitur, this switches the residual risk of unavoidable accidents
to the D., d) the retailer was unable to make any changes to the sealed
bottle; e) "between two innocents" - weaker here because of the
intervening third party, however, the D. knew that the intervening party
would not take any preventive action.
** McCabe v. Ligget Drug Co., (1953).
2. Facts: The P. used a coffee maker which was purchased at the D.'s
drug store. The P. used the coffee machine according to the
instructions. After a few uses, the coffee maker exploded due to a
buildup of contained steam, which apparantly could not be released
because the design of the coffee maker was such that the steam would be
bottled-up by residue left over from the grounds.
3. Procedural Posture: The P. brought an action in contract, for breach
of implied warranty for use. The trial jury rendered a verdict for the
P., but the judge set aside the verdict, and found for the D., on the
ground that the P. did not give the D. proper notice by proving what day
it was purchased on.
4. Issue: Is the D. liable under an implied warranty theory for personal
injuries to the P., even though the P. could not show when she bought
the coffee maker (as required by warranty breach laws of the time)?
5. Holding: Yes. Where a product is negligently designed so as to create
a risk of harm to the user, and that defect is not readily detectable by
the user operating it in a normal manner, the retailer is liable for
damages under a contract theory of implied warranty.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the design of the coffee maker was
such that it could not have been used without danger, even if used
properly. Thus, the breach of warranty applied to any coffee maker of
this brand which was sold to the P., not just the specific one that she
purchased. Therefore, she was not barred from her action if she was
unable to produce a receipt for this specific machine.
7. Notes: 4. In Henningsen v. Bloomfield Motors, the P. purchased a car
from the D. who provided a warranty for the original owner only. When
the P. gave the car to his wife, the steering failed and it went out of
control and crashed, injuring the P.'s wife. The court held that the D.
could not avoid liability by limiting the warranty, because the implied
warranty extended to the ultimate user. 5. Justice Traynor finally split
the contract/tort dutorty of these implied warranty cases by announcing
strict tort liability in Greenman v. Yuba Power Products as a matter of
law, not one imposed in a contract. 6. Liability of the manufacturer of
a product apparently ends when that product becomes incorporated into a
final assembly by a subsequent manufacturer. In Goldberg v. Kollsman
Instruments, the P.'s deceased was killed when an American Airlines
plane crashed because of a defective altimeter made by the D.. The court
limited the liability to American Airlines, stating that to hold the D.
liable would allow a P. to select from a multiplicity of D.s, and
destroy whatever contractual rights they had between them.
I. Restatement (Second) 402A - Special Liability of Seller of Product
for Physical Harm to User or Consumer.
A. The seller is liable if the product is in a defective condition
unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or his property if:
1. The seller is in the business of selling that product, and it
reaches the consumer without a substantial change.
a. This applies to a movie theater selling popcorn.
b. This does not apply to a housewife who occasionally sels her
neighbor a jar of jam.
2. Unspoiled tobacco is not unreasonably dangerous just because
smoking it is harmful, but laced tobacco is unreasonably dangerous.
B. The rule applies even though the seller has exercised all possible
care in the preparation of the product, and even if the ultimate user
has not entered into any contractual relationship with the seller.
1. The seller can prevent the product from being unreasonably
dangerous by providing an appropriate warning.
2. Some products can never be safe, (such as the rabies vaccine) but
the public good is served by them such that they are not unreasonably
dangerous because the good outweighs the danger, so it is not
unreasonable to sell them.
3. Like other strict liability cases, contributory negligence on the
order of assumption of risk is an affirmative defense.
** East River Steamship v. Transamerica Delaval, (1986)
2. Facts: The P. bought some steam turbines from the D., and had them
installed in 4 ships. The D. supervised the installation of the
turbines, and somehow the astern guard valve was put in backward. The
turbines ended up damaging themselves, causing economic damages from
repairs and lost business, but no personal injuries.
3. Procedural Posture: Court of Admiralty.
4. Issue: Is the theory of strict liability for products liability
applicable if the damages are only to the product itself, and are
economic and not personal injuries?
5. Holding: No. A manufacturer in a commercial relationship has not duty
under either a negligence or strict products-liability theory to prevent
a product from injuring itself.
6. Reasoning: The court examined the majority view held by the court in
Seely, which limited tort liability in order to prevent it from
overrunning warranty liability in contract. It also examined the
minority view in Santor, which held that the manufacturer was liable for
damages to the product itself, whether or not the defect created an
unreasonable risk of harm. There were also intermediate cases which
predicated liability on the difference between a "disappointortuser" and
an "endangered use", allowing recovery under tort if the defect could
have caused a personal injury, even if it only resutort in economic
damage to itself. The court adopted the majority view, because although
it seemed torttrary to award tort damages only for cases that resulted
in actual injury to something other than the product, it provided the
strongest argument for the safe separation of tort and contract.
** Murphy v. E.R. Squibb & Sons, Inc., (1985).
2. Facts: The P. developed cancer at the age of 23, presumably from the
side effects of the drug DES which her mother took when she was
pregnant. She brings an action against the pharmacy that sold her mother
the drugs on the theory of strict products-liability.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court dismissed the case on the basis
that the pharmacist was not susceptible to strict liability under 402A
because he was a service provider, and not a seller engaged in the
business of selling drugs.
4. Issue: Is a pharmacist strictly liable for the drugs it sells in
filling a doctor's prescription?
5. Holding: No.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that although a pharmacy was a
combination of a seller and a service provider, that there were several
policy reasons why they should not be strictly liable. They stated that
the statute regulating pharmacists defines them as a health service
provider. The pharmacist might be inclined to refuse to carry a new and
innovative drug, and only carry those from well established
manufacturers because they would have a better opportunity to recover
from the manufacturer in the future if they were ever sued. Also, it did
not seem fair that the pharmacist be held liable if he were only
fulfilling the prescription of the doctor, and the doctor was himself
immune from suit.
7. Dissent: [Bird] felt that the majority overlooked the reasons that
strict products liability was created in the first place. Specifically,
the pharmacist might be the only available defendant for an injured
party to sue because the manufacturer might be unknown. The theory is to
put the burden of loss on the one who can most easily insure against it.
8. Notes: 1. In Shaffer v. Victoria Station, Inc., the P. recovered
under strict liability for a wine glass that broke in his hand in a
restaurant where he ate because the use of the glass was necessarily
incident to the sale of the wine. In Johnson v. William C. Ellis and
Sons Iron Works, Inc., the court held that a repairman was not strictly
liable for failing to inform the occupant of a pre-existing latent
defect that he noticed while doing unrelated repair work. 2. In Tillman
v. Vance Equipment, the court held that 402A did not apply to the
sellers of used equipment because the nature of the used equipment
market is such that the buyer and seller both know that the product is
being sold without any particular representation as to its quality.
Furthermore, the used product dealer generally has no link to the sales
and distribution chain of the original manufacturer. However, in
Crandell v. Larkin, the court extended strict liability to persons who
refurbish used equipment. 3. Strict liability may extend to the new
owner of a business. They become liable for the sales of the prior owner
for 3 reasons: 1) the preceding corporation has been virtually
destroyed, leaving the P. with no other choice, 2) the successor is in
just as good a position to spread the risk as was the original owner,
and 3) the new owner should be liable for the past products because he
enjoys profits based on the original owner's reputation.
** Pouncey v. Ford Motor Co., (1972)
2. Facts: The P. was injured while putting anti-freeze into the radiator
of his car when one of the fan blades broke off and hit him in the face.
The P. provided an expert who testified that the fan broke due to
excessive inclusions in the metal which caused it to fatigue. The D.
produced an expert who said that it broke because of stress due to being
bent and out of balance.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court jury found for P., and the D.
appealed alleging error in failing to grant a judgment notwithstanding
the verdict because they felt there was not sufficient evidence for a
reasonable jury to find liability.
4. Issue: May a jury decide that a person is negligent in the
manufacture of a product based on circumstantial evidence where there is
direct evidence of an actual defect in the product?
5. Holding: yes. A manufacturer's liability for a defective product is
predicated on negligence in the manufacture or design of the product.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that there was enough evidence to find
negligence in the manufacture of the fan blade.
7. Notes: 1. The burden of proof is on the P. to show that her injury
resulted from a condition of the product which was unreasonably
dangerous and which existed at the time the product left the
manufacturer's control. 2. Res Ipsa Loquitur can be combined with a 402A
action so that the P. does not need to identify the particular product
** Volkswagen of Am., Inc. v. Young, (1974)
2. Facts: Young died in a car accident when he was driving a VW Beetle.
He was not killed by the initial collision, but rather by a "second
collision" when the seat broke free from the floor and he impacted the
rear of the car.
3. Procedural Posture: The P. claimed that the car was defectively
designed for its intended purpose because the seat was unreasonably
vulnerable to separation from the floor upon collision. The D. asked to
have the question certified whether "intended use" included collision.
4. Issue: Does the manufacturer of a car have a duty to design it so
that it will be reasonably safe in a collision?
5. Holding: Yes. An automobile manufacturer is under a duty to use
reasonable care in the design of its vehicle to avoid subjecting the
user to an unreasonable risk of injury in the event of a collision.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the risk of collision is
foreseeable, so the intended use of a car is one that includes the risk
of being exposed to an accident. Thus, a car is not only for
transportation, but for reasonably safe transportation. They held that
the standard to be applied to evaluating liability for design flaws is
the traditional one of reasonableness. They also went on to state that
section 402A of the Restatement (Second) does not apply to design
defects of an automobile because it addresses defective products which
were prepared with all possible care. So a defective design, which is
unreasonable by definition, could not fit into a rule which provides for
all possible care to be taken. If all possible care was taken, it would
not be defective.
7. Notes: 1. The manufacturer is not necessarily liable if the defect
were obvious to the user, such as the VW Van having no protection in a
head-on collision. 2. Strict liability was thought to be unworkable in
cars because to design a car that would survive any collision would be
impractical. A cost-benefit approach as well as statutory safety
regulations have been taken in determining which safety measures are
required. 3. It is often difficult for a P. to prove that his injuries
were enhanced by a defective design because they must make some showing
of what would have happened otherwise. 4. The Illinois Supreme court
held that although a car should provide reasonable protection to its own
passengers when it was being hit, it refused to extend that rationale to
the consequences to the crashing car's passengers. Thus, a car mfgr. was
held not liable when another car crashed into the mfgr.'s truck from
behind and wedged up under the bed.
** Barker v. Lull Engineering Co., (1978)
2. Facts: The P. was injured when the high-lift loader that he was
operating became unstable and lost its load. The P. was not an
experienced operator, and he was operating the lift on uneven terrain.
He claimed that the lift was defectively designed because it lacked
seat-belts, a rollbar, a locking mechanism for the lift, and a park gear
in the transmission. The D. claimed that the lift was being operated by
an inexperienced user, and not according to its intended use.
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court ruled for D.. P. appealed on the
basis that the court erred in the jury instructions which read that the
manufacturer was not strictly liable unless the product was unreasonably
dangerous for its intended use. [Section 402A].
4. Issue: Does a product have to be unreasonably dangerous for its
intended use to subject the manufacturer to strict liability?
5. Holding: A product is defective in design either 1) if the product
has failed to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect
when used in an intended or reasonably foreseeable manner, or 2) if, in
light of the relevant factors discussed below, the benefits of the
challenged design do not outweigh the risk of danger inherent in such
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that the 402A standard represents an
undue restriction on the application of strict liability principles.
Thus, the P. could recover if the product failed to perform as safely as
an ordinary consumer would expect [custom] or, even if the public had a
low view of the product's safety, if the product was designed in such a
way that the dangers could be mitigated by cost-effective precautions
7. Notes: 3. Risk-Utility test 1) usefulness, 2) safety, 3) availability
of substitute, 4) ability to eliminate risks, 5) user's ability to avoid
danger by exercising care, 6) user's awareness of the danger, 7) mfgrs
ability to spread the loss. 5. Guns do not fit into the category of
defective by design simply because they are extremely dangerous even
when designed and manufactured correctly. 6. Although an original
manufacturer is generally not liable for a subsequently modified
product, the court in Soler v. Castmaster held that the mfgr. could be
liable if the modification which was made was reasonably foreseeable to
the mfgr.. [The design defect is the ability to be adversely modified.]
** MacDonald v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., (1985)
2. Facts: The P. suffered a stroke as a side effect of taking the Ortho-
Novum contraceptive pill. The D. provided a written warning along with
the pills which stated that there were side effects which included blood
clotting which could lead in some cases to death, and that the blood
clot could occur in the brain, however, they did not warn directly of
the increased risk of "stroke".
3. Procedural Posture: The trial court jury found for the P., but the
judge granted the D.'s motion for judgment not withstanding the verdict,
concluding that the D. did not owe a duty to warn the P..
4. Issue: Does the manufacturer have a duty to warn the P. directly of
the increased risk of a stroke associated with using the birth control
5. Holding: Yes.
6. Reasoning: The court reasoned that due to the nature of the
prescription of contraceptives, the manufacturer owes a duty to directly
warn the consumer of the dangers. The prescription of birth control
pills happens only on a yearly basis, and the patient cannot be expected
to remember all the details of the doctor's advice for an extended
period of time. The patient needs a written warning that they can refer
to. Furthermore, the warning given must be "comprehensible to the
average user and convey a fair indication of the nature and extent of
the danger to the mind of a reasonably prudent person." The court found
that simply by complying with the FDA requirements, the manufacturer
does not necessarily avoid common law