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S. Ctys. Ice Co. v. RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. - 39 F. Supp. 157 (S.D. Cal. 1941)

Rule:

A trespasser should be held to a higher standard of care than a person lawfully using his own premises it was negligence to leave the building unguarded.

Facts:

The employees of defendant had permission to erect a set in the vicinity but mistook the location and entered and used the packing house. Some employees were smoking while working there. Upon departing, the employees left clothing and tools in the packing house or on a platform. The defendant, contrary to a well established custom, placed no guard when the employees left. The fire was observed about the time an explosion was heard in the end of the building furthest from the place where defendant's employees had been working, but the flooring was burned through near the door next the set, and there only. The defendant's set was not burned owing to the exertions of the fire department and defendant's employees. Plaintiffs filed suit against defendants to recover for the loss of a building by fire, allegedly caused by the defendant's employees.

Issue:

Was defendant negligent and liable for damages to plaintiff's property due to fire, where defendant left the building unguarded and its employees smoked in the building?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The Court held that under the findings, defendant was liable on the basis of negligence alone. The employees smoked upon the set, and saw the condition of the building. The Court noted that because a trespasser should be held to a higher standard of care than a person lawfully using his own premises it was negligence to leave the building unguarded. Furthermore, defendant violated its own custom of guarding sets under erection when the employees left at night. No contributory negligence was shown. No intervening cause was shown. The defendant's acts were the proximate cause of loss. The Court awarded $2,150 in damages.

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