There were two separate fires that joined together and destroyed the plaintiff’s property. One was caused by the defendant’s locomotive, and the other one had an unknown origin.
The fact that the northeast fire was set by the defendant, which was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damage, is sufficient to establish the defendant’s liability, because in negligence any one of multiple tortfeasors whose concurring acts of negligence result in injury, are each individually responsible for the entire damage resulting from their joint or concurrent acts of negligence, even each act alone is sufficient to cause such injury.
One fire, originating by sparks emitted from a locomotive, united with another fire of unknown origin. The two fires united 940 feet from the plaintiff’s property and destroyed it. The jury found that both fires constituted a proximate cause of the destruction of Plaintiff’s property.
Whether the defendant should be liable when the origin of the other fire is not identified?
Yes. The Supreme the Court of Wisconsin affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that the fact that the northeast fire was set by the defendant, which was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damage, is sufficient to establish the defendant’s liability,
The Court explained that any one of multiple e joint tortfeasors whose concurring acts of negligence result in injury, are each individually responsible for the entire damage resulting from their joint or concurrent acts of negligence. It does not matter if the joining is intentional or accidental. It also does not matter if each wrongful act alone is sufficient to cause the injury. Allowing the defendant to escape liabilities just because the other fire’s origin was unknown would be unfair to the plaintiff. It is also impossible to apportion the damage or to say that either perpetrated any distinct injury that can be separated from the whole.
The Court further clarified that one may escape liability if the multiple causes are of significantly different magnitude. For example, if one fire is the raging forest fires that envelopes and swallows the other one, the greater fire could be said to be an intervening or superseding cause. However, in this case, the two fires were of comparatively equal magnitude.
Even the defendant could raise the defense that the other fire was of natural original or much greater proportions, when the plaintiff has proved the origin of the fire and the course of the fire up to the point of the destruction of his property, the plaintiff has established liability on the part of the defendant. Therefore, the defendant should have the burden of proof that his fire was not the proximate cause. Since the defendant failed to do so, this Court affirmed the trial court’s decision for plaintiff.