A negligently builds a steel grain storage silo for B, knowing B will use it on his
Nebraska farm. In constructing the silo, A negligently fails to fasten the roof sturdily. A. summer storm hit’s B’s area, with winds exceeding 50 M.P.H., but such winds occur a few times each year in that locale.
(a) A is not liable or the damage as 50 MPH winds are an unusual natural force that should be a superseding cause of the harm.
(b) A is liable for the foreseeable harm cause by the winds.
(c) A should only be liable for a proportion of the loss, as natural forces were partially to blame.
(2) Proximate or “Legal” Cause
Proximate or “legal” cause (proximate cause), reflects a “policy” determination that sole resort to a cause in fact analysis for tort liability can lead to some extreme or unjust results. Let’s take this example: You are off to a ski weekend, and stop for pizza. The chef negligently starts a small fire in the kitchen, and your pizza is delayed by 20 minutes. You make your way to the slopes, and are on a chair lift when the lift malfunctions, leaving you suspended for 4 hours, during which time you suffer frostbite on a toe. The chef is it would seem a cause in fact of your harm, for had you been to the slopes earlier, you would not have encountered the lift problem. And yet can the chef be fairly held responsible in tort?
Proximate cause is the means of reaching such determinations. Essentially, it evaluates whether a result that a defendant has “caused” in fact is so remote (in timing, locale, etc.) or extreme, given the nature of the defendant’s act, that imposition of liability would be unjust.
Many year’s ago, it is said that a great fire was set in Chicago, and further, that the fire was started by a Mrs. O’Leary, who placed a kerosene lantern too close to the hoof of her cow, who thereupon kicked it over.
(a) Mrs. O’Leary could have been found liable for the fire, as her negligent act was a substantial factor in its start.
(b) Mrs. O’Leary could have been found liable for the fire as the other contributions to the devastation, such as the natural forces of wind, were merely foreseeable intervening causes.
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(c) Mrs. O’Leary should not have been held liable for the fire as its magnitude was so extreme as to make imposition of liability unjust.
(d) (a) and (b) above.