When the inquiry is one of foreseeability, is as regards a thing that may happen in the future, and to which the law of negligence holds a party to anticipation as a measure of duty, that inquiry is not whether the thing is to be foreseen or anticipated as one which will probably happen, according to the ordinary acceptation of that term, but whether it is likely, to happen, even though the likelihood may not be sufficient to amount to a comparative probability.
Appellant sellers distributed petroleum products, including gasoline. The buyer purchased from the sellers a drum of gasoline for use in farm tractors. When the appellee, an employee of the buyer, removed the cap from the drum, there was a sudden outburst of fire, caused by a spark produced by the condition of disrepair in the cap. The employee was severely burned by the fire. He filed a personal injury action against the sellers and recovered a judgment in his favor. The sellers appealed and argued that the proof shows that an explosion or fire in drawing gasoline from a drum when, or on account of, taking off the bung cap is an unusual, extraordinary, and improbable occurrence, so much so that some of the witnesses say that no such happening had every before been heard of by them; and that, therefore, appellant cannot be held liable as for a failure to anticipate the danger of any such improbable occurrence The court, however, affirmed the trial court's judgment.
Was the accident a foreseeable event for which appellant could be held liable?
On appeal, the court held that: (1) to bring the rule of liability into operation, it was not necessary that the chances that a damage would result were greater than the chances that no damage would occur; (2) the vendor of an inherently dangerous commodity was under a duty to use cautious care to distribute the same in reasonably safe containers; and (3) the sellers were liable for the employee's injury because the proof was sufficient to show that a person of ordinary prudence should have known of the condition of the drum and should reasonably have anticipated that a sudden fire or explosion would be caused by the condition of disrepair.