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Union Pump Co. v. Allbritton

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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff slipped on a pipe that was wet from extinguishing a fire started by the defendant’s equipment.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Proximate cause requires foreseeability.

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

Allbritton was injured when she hopped or slipped off the pipe rack.

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Facts.

Plaintiff worked at a Texaco facility that caught fire when a pump manufactured by the defendant erupted into a blaze.  The pump had malfunctioned and caught fire twice before.  After the fire was extinguished, the Plaintiff rushed to assist in turning off the nitrogen purge valve and in returning from doing so slipped on a pipe rack and fell, sustaining injuries.

Issue.

Is the defendant’s pump malfunctioning the proximate cause of the plaintiffs injuries?

Held.

No, proximate cause requires foreseeability, and this injury was not foreseeable.

Dissent.

Justice Spector, J.

The judge dissents on the grounds that the danger from the fire had not come to rest when the injury occurred, and that consequently the injury was foreseeable.  They would rule that the defendant was in fact and law the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Concurrence.

Justice Cornyn, J.

The judge concurs because he agrees that the defendant was not the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury.  However, he disagrees with the majorities conflation of foreseeability and “other policy issues with its cause-in-fact analysis” because he felt as though Allbritton’s failure to use proper care was an intervening cause.

Discussion.

The court held that proximate cause requires foreseeability.  Here, the defendant’s pump catching on fire was somewhat tangentially tied to the plaintiff slipping off the pipe rack.  The majority was also persuaded that the cause from the fire had come to rest when the injury occurred, and that consequently the defendant was not the cause.


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