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Summers v. Tice

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Summers v. Tice
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    Brief Fact Summary. Consolidated appeals from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which awarded Charles A. Summers, Plaintiff damages for personal injuries arising out of a hunting accident, in Plaintiff’s negligence action against two hunters, Harold W. Tice and Ernest Simonson (Defendants). Both hunters negligently fired, at the same time, in Defendant’s direction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If Defendants are independent tortfeasors, and thus each liable for the damage caused by him alone, but it is impossible to prove whose conduct actually caused the harm, many jurisdictions presume that each Defendant was the actual cause of the Plaintiff’s injury. The wronged party should not be deprived of his right to redress.

    Facts. Plaintiff and Defendants went on a hunting trip. Plaintiff provided each Defendant with directions on how to safely fire their weapons. While attempting to shoot their target, both Defendants fired in Plaintiff’s direction. Plaintiff suffered injuries to his right eye and face.  Plaintiff sued both Defendants in a negligence action. The trial court entered a judgment in Plaintiff’s favor.

    On appeal, the court affirmed, because it determined that Defendants failed to meet their burden of proving who was responsible for Plaintiff’s injury, therefore, because each acted negligently, each was responsible to Plaintiff for damages from the injuries he sustained. The court reasoned further that it was Defendants’ burden to offer proof as to the apportionment of damages. Because they failed to meet that burden, it was in the discretion of the trier of fact to apportion the damages.

    Issue. Did the trial court err in entering judgment in Plaintiff’s favor?

    Held. No. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed because Defendants failed to meet their burden of proving who was responsible for Plaintiff’s injury; therefore, because each acted negligently, each was responsible to Plaintiff for damages from the injuries Plaintiff sustained.

    Discussion. When we consider the relative position of the parties and the results that would flow if plaintiff was required to pin the injury on one of the defendants only, a requirement that the burden of proof on that subject be shifted to defendants becomes manifest. They are both wrongdoers negligent toward the plaintiff. They brought about a situation where the negligence of one of them injured the plaintiff; hence it should rest with them each one to absolve oneself, if he can. Defendants have placed the injured party in the unfair position of pointing to which defendant caused the harm. If one can escape the other may also and plaintiff is remediless. Ordinarily defendants are in a far better position to offer evidence to determine which one caused the injury. Here, the defendants failed to meet their burden of proving which party was responsible for plaintiff’s eye injury. Thus, the court reasoned that since they failed to meet that burden, the case should be left to the trier of fact to apportion damages. Since each Defendant acted negligently, each was responsible to Plaintiff for damages from the injuries Plaintiff sustained. The appellate court correctly affirmed the lower court’s ruling.


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