Law School Case Brief
Indiana Harbor R.R. v. American Cyayamid - 916 F.2d 1174 (7th Cir. 1990)
A case of strict liability is found where (a) the risk (probability) of harm is great; (b) the harm that would ensue if the risk materialized is great; (c) yet, such an accident can not be prevented by the exercise of due care; (d) the activity is not a matter of common usage; (e) the activity is inappropriate to the place in which it takes place; and (f) the value to the community of the activity does not appear to be great enough to offset its unavoidable risks.
A major manufacturer of chemicals was sued by a switching line for cost of decontamination measures that resulted from railroad tank car leak. The switching line based its counts on theories of negligence and strict liability arising from an abnormally dangerous activity. The district court dismissed the negligence claim with prejudice and granted summary judgment on the strict liability count. The case was elevated on appeal to the United States Court of Appeals.
Was the strict liability regime applicable in this case?
The Court found that the strict liability regime did not apply as the leak was not caused by the inherent properties of the chemical. Rather, the leak was found to arise from carelessness in transportation. Also, plaintiff failed to establish hazardous nature of activity. The Court reasoned that accidents that are due to a lack of care can be prevented by taking care, and when a lack of care can be shown in court, such accidents are adequately deterred by the threat of liability for negligence.
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