Siegler v. Kuhlman

81 Wash. 2d 448, 502 P.2d 1181 (1972)



The rule of strict liability, when applied to an abnormally dangerous activity provides, (1) One who carries on an abnormally dangerous activity is subject to liability for harm to the person, land or chattels of another resulting from the activity, although he has exercised the utmost care to prevent such harm. (2) Such strict liability is limited to the kind of harm, the risk of which makes the activity abnormally dangerous.


A 17 year old died in the flames of a gasoline explosion when her car encountered a pool of thousands of gallons of spilled gasoline. She was driving home from her after-school job when her car's headlamps were burning. There was a slight impact with some object, a muffled explosion, and then searing flames from gasoline pouring out of an overturned trailer tank engulfed her car. A case was filed in court against the owner of the trailer company who was transporting the gasoline truck, the decedent hit. At trial, the truck driver testified that he inspected the trailer, checking the lights, hitch, air hoses and tires. Finding nothing wrong, he then set out, driving the fully loaded truck tank and trailer tank. While in transit to his destination, the trailer came loose. Realizing that the tank trailer had disengaged from his tank truck, he stopped the truck without skidding its tires. He got out and ran back to see that the tank trailer had crashed through a chain-link highway fence. The lower court found defendant was not negligent in care, maintenance, and operation of freight truck that overturned on highway spilling thousands of gallons of gasoline. 


Was the truck driver negligent in maintenance and operation of truck?




The Court found defendant liable on a theory of strict liability. The court imposed strict liability on defendant because the transportation of gasoline as freight by truck was an abnormally dangerous activity. The court found transporting gasoline by truck was an activity that involved a high degree of risk of harm or injury that could not be eliminated by the exercise of reasonable care. The court also found strict liability should be imposed because evidence tending to prove or disprove negligence is lost in a gasoline explosion.

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