ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. Defendants carelessly discharged oil from their ship. Oil was carried by the wind and tide to Plaintiff’s wharf, which was destroyed by fire. Such damage could not have been foreseen.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Defendant is not liable for the damage solely because it directly resulted from his negligent act. The rule in Polemis is overturned.
Issue. Is a tortfeasor liable for all damage, even that which is unforeseeable, directly resulting from a negligent act?
Held. No. Appeal allowed.
* The rule in Polemis plainly asserts the, if the defendant is guilty of negligence, he is responsible for all the consequences whether reasonably foreseeable or not. The negligent actor is not reasonable for consequences that are not “direct.”
* A defendant ought to have anticipated as a reasonable man is material when the question is whether or not he was guilty of negligence. This, however, goes to culpability, not to compensation.
* It seems to be a palpable injustice for the actor to be held liable for all consequences however unforeseeable and however grave, so long as they can be said to be “direct”
* If the ordinary man had been asked, as a matter of common sense, to state the cause of the fire, he would have assigned such cause to the discharge of the oil by the Defendants.
Discussion. A tortfeasor is responsible for the reasonably foreseeable or probable consequences of his negligent acts. In this case, the test for liability for fire is foreseeability of injury from fire. However, this rule is in conflict with the “egg-skull” plaintiff rule, which states that the defendant is liable for all injuries to the plaintiff, i.e., “you take the plaintiff as you find him.”