Torts > Torts Keyed to Epstein > The Negligence Issue
Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works
Citation. 156 Eng. Rep. 1047 (Ex.1856).
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Brief Fact Summary.
Blyth’s (Plaintiff’s) house was flooded with water, because of a plug that was frozen over during one of the most severe storms in recent history.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
In a claim of negligence, the issue of duty is a question of law, not properly left for the determination of a jury. It would be monstrous to hold Defendant’s responsible because they did not foresee and prevent an obscure accident that was not discovered until many months thereafter.
Defendant was hired by the city to lay pipe for a water main. The pipes were built out of materials, which were sound and in good order. One of the most severe storms created frost on the stopper, which caused the water to force its way around the neck of the main, and on the ground into Plaintiff’s house. The judge left it to the jury to consider whether Defendant had used proper care to prevent the accident to Plaintiff’s house. The jury found a verdict for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.
Is Defendant negligent for failing to guard Plaintiff’s house against one of the most severe storms?
No. Judgment for Defendant.
* There is no evidence to be left to the jury in this case. Negligence is the omission to do something, which a reasonable man would do, or do something, which a prudent and reasonable man would not do. In this case a reasonable man would act with reference to the average circumstances of the temperature in previous winters.
Concurrence. (B.Bramwell) The Defendants were not bound to keep the plugs clear. Plaintiff was under as much obligation to remove the ice and snow, which had accumulated, as Defendants. It would be monstrous to hold Defendants responsible because they did not foresee and prevent an obscure accident that was not discovered until many months thereafter.
In this case, Defendant owed no duty to Plaintiff. The issue of duty is one of law, not of fact. Juries decide issues of fact. Judges decide issues of law. Because Defendant owed Plaintiff no duty to inspect the pipes and remove the ice and snow, which had accumulated, it was not proper for the trial court to submit Plaintiff’s claim of negligence to the jury.