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Scott v. Shepherd

    Citation. 484 U.S. 940 108 S. Ct. 323 98 L. Ed. 2d 351 1987 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. Shepard (Defendant) threw a lighted squib into a crowded marketplace. As a result, two other patrons threw the squib until it struck Scott (Plaintiff) in the face, injuring him. Plaintiff sued Defendant for trespass and assault.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Everyone who does an unlawful act is considered as the doer of all that follows.

    Facts. Defendant threw a lighted squib, made of gunpowder, from the street into the marketplace where large groups of people were assembled. The lighted squib landed near Yates. To prevent injury to himself and Yates, Willis threw the quid across the marketplace. The squib landed next to Ryal. To save his own goods from being injured, Ryal picked up the squib and threw it to another part of the marketplace. The squib then struck Plaintiff in the face. The combustible matter of the lighted squib injured Plaintiff’s eyes. Plaintiff lost the use of his eye. Plaintiff sued Defendant for trespass and assault for throwing, casting, and tossing the lighted squib. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Did the injury received by Plaintiff arise from the force of the original act of Defendant, or from a new force by a third person?

    Held. Yes. Judgment for Plaintiff affirmed.
    * (C.J. DeGrey) The question here is whether the injury received by Plaintiff arises from the force of the original act of Defendant, or from a new force by a third person. Here, the injury is the direct and immediate act of the Defendant. Throwing the squib was an unlawful act. Mischief was originally intended – not any particular mischief, but mischief indiscriminate and wanton. Defendant is the author of whatever mischief thereafter that follows. All that was done subsequent to the original throwing was a continuation of the first force and first act, which will continue until the squib was spent by bursting.
    * Any innocent person removing the danger from himself to another is justifiable. The blame falls upon Defendant, the first thrower. Willis and Ryal were acting under a compulsive necessity for their own safety and self-preservation. Their throwing of the squib was not a separate trespass, but a continuation of Defendant’s original trespass.

    Dissent. (J. Blackstone) An action did not lie for Plaintiff against Defendant.
    * The lawfulness or unlawfulness of the original act is not the criterion. For an action of trespass to lie, the injury must be immediate, not merely consequential. The only determination should be whether the injury to Plaintiff was immediate or consequential. In this case, Defendant’s tortious act was complete when the squib landed near Yates. Yates can protect himself from the squib, but should do so in a manner as not injury others. Defendant is not liable for the new motion and new direction given to the squib.
    * It is said that the act is not complete, nor the squib at rest, until after it is spent or exploded. A stone that has been thrown against the window has the ability of doing fresh mischief. If any person gives that stone a new motion and does further mischief, trespass will not lie against the original thrower. If a man tosses a football into the street and, after being kicked about by one hundred people, it at last breaks a tradesman’s window, the man who gave it that mischievous direction is the only one liable.
    * In this case, trespass would lie against Ryal, the immediate actor. Ryal did not use sufficient care in removing the danger from himself. Throwing the squib, instead of brushing it down, was unnecessary and incautious. Defendant is answerable in trespass for all the direct and inevitable effects caused by his own immediate act – the throwing the squib at Yates.
    Concurrence. (J. Nares) The natural and probable consequence of the act done by Defendant was injury to somebody, and therefore the act was illegal at common law. Being unlawful, Defendant was liable to answer for the consequences, be the injury mediate or immediate.

    Discussion. The decision in this case depends on how far the Court wants to extend liability. Defendants are liable for direct injuries. A direct injury is an injury that is the cause in fact of Plaintiff’s damage and is not too far remote in the chain of causation. Conversely, Defendants are not liable for consequential injuries. A consequential injury is an injury that is the cause in fact of Plaintiff’s damage but is not closely enough tied to the damage in the chain of cause action. The difference between the two is arbitrary and decided by the courts. Both direct injuries and consequential injures are injuries that did in fact cause the damage complained of. The difference between the in the number of steps required in the chain of events. A direct injury will be one that requires only a few causal steps to go from the breach of the duty to the damage that resulted. A consequential injury will be one that requires more casual steps.


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