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Law School Case Brief

George A. Hormel & Co. v. Maez - 92 Cal. App. 3d 963, 155 Cal. Rptr. 337 (1979)


Actionable negligence consists of three elements: (1) a defendant's legal duty to use due care; (2) a breach of that duty; and (3) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of plaintiff's resulting injury. The duty to exercise reasonable care in driving an automobile down the highway is established for the protection of the persons or property of others against all of the unreasonable possibilities of harm which may be expected to result from collisions with other vehicles, or with pedestrians, or from the driver's own automobile leaving the highway, or from narrowly averted collisions or other accidents. When harm of a kind normally to be expected as a consequence of the negligent driving results from the realization of any one of these hazards, it is within the scope of the defendant's duty of protection. 


On July 22, 1975, a driver was operating a motor vehicle on a public street in La Mirada, California. He was traveling at approximately 60-65 miles per hour when he lost control of the vehicle and struck a power pole. As a result of the collision, the power pole was broken and power lines were downed. The driver was arrested some short time after the accident and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving the scene of an accident, and operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver's license. A company brought a negligence claim against the driver. One witness testified that he saw the driver's vehicle strike the power pole and that the lights in the area immediately went out. The witness testified that the power pole was broken off three to four feet above the ground, wires from it were sparking, and the transformer was broken. An employee of the company also testified that at the time of the accident, a power surge burned out a motor in the company's factory and caused the power in the plant to shut off for two hours. The municipal court awarded damages to the company. Driver sought reversal contending that it owed respondent no duty of care because the resulting damages were not reasonably foreseeable and the resultant harm was not of the kind normally expected of negligent driving.



Should the driver be liable for damages against the company?




The court affirmed the judgment of the municipal court which found for the company in its negligence action against the driver. The court held that the driver's negligent act of colliding into a power pole and destroying the power in respondent's factory causing economic injury was reasonably foreseeable. Thus, the driver owed the company a duty of due care, and the driver's breach of that duty proximately caused the company damages. The court found that the economic loss to the company as a result of the loss of power was foreseeable as a reasonably likely result of the driver's negligence, and that there were no intervening acts.

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