ProfessorMelissa A. Hale
CaseCast™ – "What you need to know"
Brief Fact Summary. The defendants negligently caused oil to spill into the Port of Sydney. This spill did minimal damage to the plaintiff’s ships. The oil subsequently caused a fire when molten metal dropped into the water and ignited cotton waste floating in the port. The fire destroyed the ships.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. If a party did nothing to prevent the injury, he is liable for the foreseeable consequences of his actions, even if the consequences are remote.
Issue. Whether the fire, which was found to be foreseeable to the reasonable man, was reasonably foreseeable to the extent liability attaches.
Held. If a reasonable man can foresee and prevent the risk, then he is liable for the foreseeable damages.
Discussion. Based on the trial court’s findings, it is true that the Wagon Mound’s operators would have foreseen that oil spilling into the harbor had a possibility of causing a fire, but would have only a very low probability. A fire could only result under exceptional circumstances. However, because the risk of fire was foreseeable, the defendants bore a duty to prevent the risk, even if the risk was a remote possibility.