Ryan v. New York C. R. Co.

35 N.Y. 210 (1866)



Every person is liable in damages for the proximate results of his own acts, but not for remote damages.


Defendant railroad negligently caused a fire that destroyed its woodshed. The fire spread to plaintiff landowner’s property 130 feet away from the shed and destroyed a building. Plaintiff sued defendant to recover for the damage to the building. The trial court nonsuited plaintiff’s action, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment. The court affirmed the appellate court’s judgment.


If a house in a populous city took fire, through the negligence of the owner or his servant, and the flames extended to and destroyed an adjacent building, could the owner of the first building be held liable to the second owner for the damage sustained by such burning?




The action could not be sustained, for the reason that the damages incurred were not the immediate but the remote result of the negligence of defendants. The immediate result was the destruction of their own wood and sheds; beyond that, it was remote. In a country where wood, coal, gas and oils were universally used, where men were crowded into cities and villages, where servants were employed, and where children found their home in all houses, it was impossible that the most vigilant prudence should guard against the occurrence of accidental or negligent fires. To hold that the owner should not only meet his own loss by fire, but that he should  guarantee the security of his neighbors on both sides, and to an unlimited extent, would be to create a liability which would be the destruction of all civilized society. In a commercial country, each man, to some extent, runs the hazard of his neighbor's conduct, and each, by insurance against such hazards, is enabled to obtain a reasonable security against loss. To neglect such precaution, and to call upon his neighbor, on whose premises a fire originated, to indemnify him instead, would be to award a punishment quite beyond the offense committed.

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