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The act of a third person, intervening and contributing a condition necessary to the injurious effect of the original negligence, will not excuse the first wrongdoer, if such act ought to have been foreseen. The original negligence still remains a culpable and direct cause of the injury. The test is to be found in the probable injurious consequences which were to be anticipated, not in the number of subsequent events and agencies which might arise. The question is not whether it was a possible consequence, but whether it was probable, that is, likely to occur, according to the usual experience of mankind. That this is the true test of responsibility applicable to a case where a wrongdoer is not responsible for a consequence which is merely possible, according to occasional experience, but only for a consequence which is probable, according to ordinary and usual experience. One is bound to anticipate and provide against what usually happens and what is likely to happen; but it would impose too heavy a responsibility to hold him bound in like manner to guard against what is unusual and unlikely to happen, or what, as it is sometimes said, is only remotely and slightly probable. A high degree of caution might, and perhaps would, guard against injurious consequences which are merely possible; but it is not negligence, in a legal sense, to omit to do so.
The farm owner's sons were injured by an explosion of solidified nitroglycerine, which was the property of the chemical company. The chemical company's employee was sent to the farm with the substance to form a well for the farm owner. The nitroglycerine was discarded by the employee and taken by the farm owner's son to a nearby graveyard for safe keeping. The farm owner's sons discovered it two years later and it exploded when one of the boys tried to break off a piece. The farm owner sued the company to recover damages for expenses and loss of services to the owner on account of injuries received by his two minor sons through the explosion. The district court ruled in favor of the farm owner, and the chemical company appealed.
Was the farm owner entitled to recover damages for expenses and loss of services to the owner on account of injuries received by his two minor sons through the explosion?
The court affirmed the judgment in favor of the farm owner, holding that an accident was likely to happen in letting the nitroglycerine out of the close custody of someone skilled in its use, and that the result was not only natural and probable, but almost inevitable. The court held that the fact that the owner's son attempted to prevent harm, but failed on account of lack of sufficient knowledge to dispose of the substance effectively, did not amount to an unrelated and efficient agency to shift the proximate cause from the delict of the company to a new proximate cause of his own making.