Ryan v. New York C. R. Co.

35 N.Y. 210 (1866)



That a building upon which sparks and cinders fall should be destroyed or seriously injured must be expected, but that the fire should spread and other buildings be consumed, is not a necessary or a usual result. That it is possible, and that it is not unfrequent, cannot be denied. The result, however, depends, not upon any necessity of a further communication of the fire, but upon a concurrence of accidental circumstances, such as the degree of the heat, the state of the atmosphere, the condition and materials of the adjoining structures and the direction of the wind. These are accidental and varying circumstances. The party has no control over them, and is not responsible for their effects.


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. He sued defendant to recover for the damage to the building. The trial court nonsuited plaintiff, and the appellate court affirmed the judgment. On further appeal, the court affirmed the decision to nonsuit the landowner.


Was defendant railroad, whose negligence resulted in a fire destroying its own woodshed, liable for the destruction of another property destroyed by the same fire?




Under the circumstances of the case, plaintiff landowner's damages were the remote result of the negligence of defendant railroad. The immediate result was the destruction of defendant’s own wood and sheds; beyond that, it was remote. The destruction of plaintiff's building 130 feet away from the source of a fire was not the ordinary and natural result of a fire.

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