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Law School Case Brief

Atchison, T. & S. F. R. Co. v. Stanford - 12 Kan. 354 (1874)

Rule:

In law, proximate and remote causes and effects do not have reference to time, nor distance, nor merely to a succession of events, or to a succession of causes and effects. A wrongdoer is not merely responsible for the first result of his wrongful act, but for every succeeding injurious result which could have been foreseen, by the exercise of reasonable diligence, as the reasonable, natural and probable consequence of his wrongful act. He is responsible for any number of injurious results consecutively produced by impulsion, and constituting separate events, provided they all necessarily follow from the first wrongful cause. Any number of causes and effects may intervene between the first wrongful cause and the final injurious consequence; if they are such as might, with reasonable diligence, have been foreseen, the last result, as well as the first, and every intermediate result, is to be considered as the proximate result of the first wrongful cause. But whenever a new cause intervenes which is not a consequence of the first wrongful cause, which is not under the control of the wrongdoer, which could not have been foreseen by the exercise of reasonable diligence by the wrongdoer, and except for which the final injurious consequence could not have happened, then such injurious consequence must be deemed to be too remote to constitute the basis of a cause of action.

Facts:

Plaintiff property owner brought an action against defendant railway to recover damages for injuries sustained by the destruction by a fire of mare, colt, corn, oats, wheat, hay, and outbuildings and fences. He alleged that the fire was set by the emitting coals and sparks from a locomotive engine passing over the railway's railroad and by reason of the negligence and carelessness of the railway. The lower court entered judgment for the property owner. The railway, which was now the plaintiff in error, appealed.

Issue:

Was the injury too remote to constitute a negligence cause of action against defendant railway, thus, rendering the lower court’s judgment in favor of the property owner erroneous?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the judgment in favor of defendant in error property owner. The verdict was sustained by sufficient evidence, and the trial court did not err in refusing to set aside the verdict of the jury and granting a new trial. The property owner showed that one of the railway's engines caused one or more fires and that ordinary engines do not ordinarily produce such a result. Thus, he made out a prima facie case of negligence. The injury was not too remote to constitute a cause of action. The jury instructions given by the lower court were substantially correct. There was no error in permitting evidence with regard to the value of corn to go to the jury.

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