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Law School Case Brief

Langan v. Valicopters, Inc. - 88 Wash. 2d 855, 567 P.2d 218 (1977)

Rule:

One who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity is subject to liability for harm to the person, land, or chattels of another resulting from the activity, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent such harm. Such strict liability is limited to the kind of harm, the risk of which makes the activity abnormally dangerous.

Facts:

Patrick and Dorothy Langan (Respondents) owned a small farm in the Yakima Valley. The Langans were organic farmers, i.e., they did not use non-organic fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides to aid them in their farming but rely on natural fertilizers and natural pest control agents. They had planned to can and sell their produce to organic food buyers. Valicopters, Inc., which was a Washington corporation engaged in the aerial application of agricultural pesticides, accidentally sprayed a chemical pesticide on the Langans’ farm. The Langans were members of the Northwest Organic Food Producers’ Association (NOFPA) whose bylaws prohibit the use of any chemical products on one’s crop produce. After conducting laboratory tests on Langans’ crop tissue, the board of directors of NOFPA revoked Langans’ certification as organic food growers. Due to the decertification, the Langans did not grow their tomatoes and beans to fruition. Thereafter, the Langans commenced suit against Valicopters. The lower court instructed the jury on both strict liability and wanton conduct, and a jury subsequently found for the Langans, holding that damages occurred as a result of the spraying. Valicopters challenged the award.

Issue:

Was the jury decision awarding damages to the Langans proper?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court held that there was a substantial evidence to support the jury’s findings that the damages occurred as a result of the spraying. Furthermore, the Court held that the lower court’s instructions on strict liability were proper because crop dusting was an abnormally dangerous activity, and one who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity was subject to liability for harm to the person, land or chattels of another. Moreover, the Court held that the lower court's instructions on wanton conduct were proper because there was evidence that the crop duster's helicopter flew over the organic farmer's land at a low level while the spray was turned on in violation of Wash. Admin. Code § 16-235-050.

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