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Kingston v. Chicago & N.W. Ry.

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Brief Fact Summary.

Two fires—one of unknown origin and one caused by the defendant—merged and destroyed the plaintiff’s property. Either fire alone could have caused the damage to the plaintiff’s property.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The rule of proximate cause says that when there are two or more wrongdoers whose concurring acts of negligence cause an injury, each wrongdoer is individually responsible for the entire damage, and the loss should be treated as an entirety.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The whole loss must necessarily be considered and treated as an entirety.

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Facts.

Two fires damaged the plaintiff’s property—one of unknown origin and one caused by sparks emitted from the defendant’s train. The two fires merged 940 feet from the plaintiff’s property and went on to destroy that property. Each fire in the absence of the other would have been sufficient to cause the damage.

Issue.

Is the defendant liable for the damage to the plaintiff’s property despite the second fire of unknown origin?

Held.

Yes. The fact that one of the fires was caused by the defendant’s negligence is sufficient to show proximate cause and affirm the lower court’s judgement.

Discussion.

When there are two or more wrongdoers whose concurring acts of negligence cause an injury, each wrongdoer is individually responsible for the entire damage. In this case, the two fires were of a similar magnitude, so it is unclear whether the fire of unknown origin merely swallowed the defendant’s fire. The court determines that it would be unjust to allow the defendant to escape liability merely because the origin of the second fire was unknown. The court shifts the burden of proof to the defendant to show that the fire it caused was not the proximate cause of damage to the plaintiff’s property. Although it would be virtually impossible to prove that the damage would not have occurred absent the defendant’s negligence, the innocent party should not have to bear the burden of loss in this situation.


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