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Kingston v. Chicago & N.W. Ry

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    Bloomberg Law

    Brief Fact Summary. Two fires were the proximate cause of the destruction of Plaintiff’s land. Chicago & N.W. Ry. (Defendant) negligently set one of the fires, therefore, Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Any one of two or more joint tortfeasors, or one of two or more wrongdoers whose concurring acts of negligence result in injury, are each individually responsible for the entire damage resulting from their joint or concurrent acts of negligence.

    Facts. Sparks emitted from Defendant’s locomotive set a northeast fire. A northwest fire was set by an unknown origin. Both fires constituted a proximate cause of the destruction of Plaintiff’s property. Both fires are well supported by the evidence. The two fires united 940 feet from Plaintiff’s property and bore down upon it and destroyed it. Thus there were are two separate, independent, and distinct fires, each of which constituted the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s damage and either of which, in the absence of the other, would have destroyed Plaintiff’s property. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence. Judgment for Plaintiff.

    Issue. Is Defendant responsible for damage caused by a fire that he started if another fire of unknown origin would have done the damage alone, but instead joined the fire and destroyed Plaintiff’s property?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * Any one of two or more joint tortfeasors, or one of two or more wrongdoers whose concurring acts of negligence result in injury, are each individually responsible for the entire damage resulting from their joint or concurrent acts of negligence.
    * In this case, it is impossible to apportion the damage or to say that either perpetrated any distinct injury that can be separated from the whole. It would be a different case if neither fire alone could have destroyed Plaintiff’s land or if one fire was so disproportionate to the other as to consume it. But this is not the situation in this case.
    * Even if it were determined who had set the northwest fire, Defendant would still be liable to Plaintiff for the entire damage for negligently setting the northeast fire. When Plaintiff has suffered damage by fire and proves the origin of the fire and the course of the fire up to the point of the destruction of his property, Plaintiff has established liability on the part of Defendant, the originator of the fire. The burden is then on Defendant to prove that his fire was not the proximate cause.

    Discussion. If the facts of the case were such that the only fire set was that of the Defendant’s and it negligently destroyed Plaintiff’s property, then Defendant would still be liable for the entire damage done. Therefore, the fact that there is a second fire, of unknown origins, does not alter the outcome.


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