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Sullivan v. Dunham

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Sullivan’s (Plaintiff) decedent was struck and killed while traveling on the highway by a wood fragment from a dynamite blast on Dunham’s (Defendant) nearby land.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An individual is liable for injuries caused by trespass to person or property due to activities like blasting where the injury is direct and not consequential without need for proof of negligence.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff’s decedent was travelling on a highway when wooden debris struck and killed her. The wood fragment had come from the dynamite blast of a 60-foot tree 412 feet away. Plaintiff sued Defendant, who had hired two men to dynamite the tree from his property, and the two blasters for damages resulting from the decedent’s death. The suit was allowed by a statute that gave a decedent’s personal representative standing to sue for a wrongful act, neglect, or default leading to the decedent’s death if the same action could have been brought by the decedent. The trial judge held that Plaintiff did not need to prove negligence in order to recover. The court of appeals affirmed the finding for Plaintiff and Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Is an individual liable in trespass for injuries resulting from debris caused by blasting activities?

    Held.

    (Vann, J.) Yes. An individual is liable for injuries caused by trespass to person or property due to activities like blasting where the injury is direct and not consequential without need for proof of negligence. A landowner has the right to use his land as he sees fit, but that right does not overcome another’s right to the beneficial use of his own property. This type of injury has never required negligence to allow for recovery. Protection of persons from trespass is entitled to the same approach. Previous cases have allowed recovery for personal injury due to intentional explosion and have protected people from injury even when they did not own the land upon which they were injured.  It seems within our settled principles to protect a person who is where he is entitled to be, such as on a public highway. The judgment is affirmed.

    Discussion.

    This case illustrates an approach that is no longer followed which distinguished between concussion damage and debris damage resulting from blasting operations. Debris damage did not require proof of negligence because it was a direct harm treated as a trespass action where intent and fault were irrelevant. Concussion damage was indirect and consequential harm and did require proof of negligence in order to recover. Spano v. Perini Corp., 250 N.E.2d 31 (N.Y. 1969) eliminated this distinction and focused on the issue of who should bear the cost of blasting damages.


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