ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Furness’s (Defendant) employees dropped a plank while unloading cargo and the dropped plank caused a spark that created an explosion in the cargo which destroyed the ship Polemis. Polemis’ owners (Plaintiffs) sought damages.
The fact that the damage actually caused was not the damage anticipated does not alter the liability for a negligent act so long as that damage is a direct result of the negligent act and not the result of an independent cause.
Defendant chartered the ship Polemis from Plaintiffs to carry a shipment of petrol and benzene. While the cargo was being unloaded in Casablanca, a heavy plank fell into the hold which created a spark that ignited the petrol vapor. The cargo exploded and the ship was destroyed. Plaintiffs and Defendants met with arbitrators who determined that although no one could reasonably foresee that dropping a plank would cause a spark, Defendant’s employees’ act of dropping the plank was negligent and some damage from that negligent act was reasonably foreseeable.
Was the destruction of the ship too remote from the negligent act for Defendant to be liable?
(Lord Bankes, J.) No. The act of dropping the plank was negligent and would likely cause some damage. The fact that the damage actually caused was not the damage anticipated does not alter the liability for a negligent act so long as that damage is a direct result of the negligent act and not the result of an independent cause. The arbitrators are affirmed and the appeal dismissed.
(Lord Scrutton, J.) When damage is the direct result of a negligent act, with no other cause independent of the negligent act to blame, that the type of damage caused was not what was expected is irrelevant. Here, damage from knocking down planks was foreseeable, so it does not matter that the spark was not. Appeal dismissed.
In the United States, the principle found in this case was set out in Christianson v. Chicago, St. P., M.G.O. Ry Co., 69 N.W. 640 (Minn. 1896) and is the minority rule. The rule essentially states that if the foreseeable result of negligent act A is B, but the actual result of A is C, then the tortfeasor is responsible for C. Prosser is one of those who called the decision “absurd” because the resulting damages are usually too high. This case was eventually overruled in 1961.