Though a building burned by the fire of another burning building first might be at such a distance that its taking fire from the first might not, a priori, have seemed possible, yet, if it be satisfactorily shown that it did, in fact, thus take fire, without any negligence of the owner, and without the fault of some third party, which could properly be recognized as the proximate cause, and for which defendant could be held liable, the party through whose negligence the first building was burned has equal liability for the burning of the second.
A property owner filed a claim for damages against a saw-mill owner for a fire caused by the escape of sparks from the saw-mill chimney. The fire destroyed a hotel and attached or nearby buildings. During trial, the trial court permitted the property owner to show that the mill had for years given off sparks, that the mill foreman had notice thereof, and that the sparks could have been prevented by installation of a spark-catcher on the chimney top. The mill owner was found liable for damages from the fire. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Michigan where the saw-mill owner questioned the admissibility of the evidence of the property owner.
Where escaping sparks caused a fire in a nearby building, was the owner of the first building liable because he knew of spark arresters and did not equip his building with them?
The court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, which found the mill owner liable for damages from the fire. The Court held that the evidence was admissible because it showed circumstances tending to prove that the property was set on fire by the mill. Because the mill owner was away, and in justice and fairness to adjacent proprietors whose property might be injured by the mode of running the mill, notice to his foreman was notice to the mill owner. Testimony in relation to the use of spark-catchers was properly admitted because when, as here, the mill was situated in the midst of a city, and was without any apparatus for arresting the escape of sparks, it was the mill owner's moral and his legal duty to try to minimize the hazard.