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Surocco v. Geary

Citation. Surocco v. Geary, 3 Cal. 69 (Cal. 1853)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Defendant, the Alcalde of San Francisco, destroyed Plaintiffs’ house in an attempt to halt the progression of a fire in the city. Plaintiffs sued to recover for the damages sustained by the destruction.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Otherwise tortious acts may be rendered non-tortious when necessity dictates that they be undertaken for the greater interests of society.


Defendant had Plaintiffs’ house destroyed in an effort to save many more buildings from a fire. Plaintiffs sued to recover for the damages to his property. Judgment was entered for Plaintiffs, and the Defendant appealed.


Was Defendant privileged to destroy Plaintiffs’ house in order to halt the spread of the fire?


Yes. The judgment was reversed. The private rights of an individual in a house that is in danger of spreading flame to other houses and thus an entire city yield to the interest in protecting against such a spread. In such case, one is privileged to destroy the house to stop the spread.


In this case, the Court recognizes the common law privilege of necessity. In cases involving a fire that is likely to spread, an individual is privileged to destroy the house when such destruction is necessary to halt the spread. No recovery may be had for the damages flowing from such a necessary destruction.

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