Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff operated a mink ranch located in a rural area. Defendant company conducted blastings near plaintiff’s ranch and the vibrations from the blasting operations caused mother minks to kill her kittens. Plaintiff brought an action against defendant claiming strict liability.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Strict liability should be confined to consequences which lie within the extraordinary risk whose existence calls for such responsibility.
As applied to blasting operations, the doctrine has quite uniformly been held to establish liability, irrespective of negligence, for property damage sustained as a result of casting rocks or other debris on adjoining or neighboring premises.View Full Point of Law
Plaintiff operated a mink ranch located in a rural area. Defendant was a company conducting blasting operations. Early in May 1951, defendant began constructing a road near plaintiff’s ranch. Defendant used explosives and blasted twice a day to clear a path for the road. The blasting resulted huge vibrations which caused the mother minks on the farm to kill approximately 35 to 40 of their kittens. Plaintiff informed defendant’s manager about the situation and defendant promised to make blasting as light as possible. After that, defendant continued blasting throughout the whelping season. Plaintiff brought an action against defendant claiming strict liability.
Whether defendant who engaged in blasting could be held strictly liable for causing the plaintiffs minks to kill their kittens?
The supreme court reversed the judgment, holding it was the exceedingly nervous disposition of mink, rather than the normal risks inherent in blasting operations, which was required, as a matter of sound policy, to bear the responsibility for the loss suffered by plaintiff. Defendant’s activity was not ultrahazardous. The doctrine of strict liability is therefore inapplicable.
This Court argued that the doctrine of strict liability should apply in cases apply where the damage from blasting is caused, not by the casting of rocks and debris, but by concussion, vibration, or jarring. However, strict liability should also be confined to consequences which lie within the extraordinary risk whose existence calls for such responsibility.
The opinion quoted professor Prosser
“It is one thing to say that a dangerous enterprise must pay its way within reasonable limits, and quite another to say that it must bear responsibility for every extreme of harm that it may cause. The same practical necessity for the restriction of liability within some reasonable bounds, which arises in connection with problems of ‘proximate cause’ in negligence cases, demands here that some limit be set . . . This limitation has been expressed by saying that the defendant’s duty to insure safety extends only to certain consequences. More commonly, it is said that the defendant’s conduct is not the ‘proximate cause’ of the damage. But ordinarily in such cases no question of causation is involved, and the limitation is one of the policy underlying liability.” Prosser on Torts, 457, § 60.”
In this case, the question becomes, if the risk that any unusual vibration or noise may cause wild animals, which are being raised for commercial purposes, to kill their young, is one of the things which make the activity of blasting ultrahazardous
As the trial court found that the blasting did not unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of their property by nearby landowners other than plaintiff’s mink ranch, this Court determined that defendant’s moderate vibration and noise were not extraordinarily risky and disturbing. It is the exceedingly nervous disposition of mink, rather than the normal risks inherent in blasting operations, which therefore must, as a matter of sound policy, bear the responsibility for the loss here sustained.