Anderson v. Minnneapolis, st.p. s.stm r.r. co.

Facts:

This is a fire case brought against the defendant railway company.

 

Plaintiff had a verdict.

 

The appeal is from an order denying a motion in the alternative for

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judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial.

                             

A forest fire, which originated in a bog and was found by the jury to have

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been caused by the negligence of the defendant, swept over a large area.

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It merged with another fire of independent and uncertain origin, and the

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combined fires burned over plaintiff’s property.

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Issue(s):

 

Whether the defendant was liable that the origin fire caused by the

 

negligence of defendant might not cause harm to plaintiff but combine

 

with another fire, superior in strength but of unknown origin?

 

Rule of Law:

  1. if plaintiffs property was damaged by a number of fires combining

 

one…being the fire plead …the others being of no responsible origin, but

 

of such sufficient or such superior force that they would have produced

 

the damage to property regardless of the fire pleaded, then defendant was

 

not liable.

 

minn. 357,………….. this court considered the cook case but refrained

 

from expressing approval or disapproval of its doctrine. The supreme

 

court of Michigan has referred to it as good law….the supreme court of

 

Idaho says the opinion is logical and well reasoned , but the discussion is

 

in a large measure theoretical and academic….judge Thompson in his

 

work on negligence, vol.1.§739, says that the conclusion reached is so

 

clearly wrong as not to deserve discussion. If the cook case merely decide

 

that one who negligently sets a fire was not liable if another’s d property

 

is damaged, unless it is made to appear that the fire was a material

 

element in the destruction of the property, there can be no question about

 

the soundness of the decision. But if it decides that if such fire combines

 

with another of no responsible origin, and after the union of the two fires

 

they they destroy the property, and either fire independently of the other

 

would have destroyed it, then irrespective of whether the first fire was or

 

was not a material factor in the destruction of the property, there is no

 

liability , we are nor prepared to adopt the doctrine as the law of this state.

 

If a fire set by the engine of one railroad company unites with a fire set by

 

the engine of another company, there is joint and several liability , even

 

thought either fire would have destroyed plaintiff’s property. But if the doctrine of the cook case is applied and one of the fires is of unknown

 

origin, there is no liability. G.S. 1913. §4426,leaves no room for the

 

application of a rule which would relieve a railroad company from

 

liability under such circumstances. Moreover the reasoning of the court in

 

mcclellan v. st. paul, m & m. ry. Co. 58 minn. 104,59 n. w. 978 leads to

 

the conclusion that , regardless of the statute, there would be liability in

 

such a case. We, therefore ,hold that the trial court did not err in refusing

 

to  instruct the jury in accordance with rule laid down in the cook case.

 

Analysis:

  1. if the plaintiff was burned out by some fire other than the bog fire,

 

which other fire was not set by one of the engines, then, of course, the

 

defendant was not liable. if the plaintiff was burned out by fire set by one

 

of the defendant’s engines in combination with some other fire not set by

 

any of its engines, then it is liable.

 

  1. if you find that other fire or fires not set by one of defendants engines

 

mingled with one that that was set by one of the defendants engines, there

 

may be difficulty in determining whether you should find that the fire set

 

by the engine was amaterial or substantial element in causing plaintiff’s

 

damage. If it was, the defendant is liable, otherwise is not.

 

  1. if you find that bog fire was set by the defendants engine and that

 

some greater fire swept over it before it reached the plaintiff ‘s land., then

 

it will be for you to determine whether that bog fire. Was a material or

 

substantial factor in causing plaintiff’s damage. If it was defendant was

 

liable. If it is not, defendant is not liable. If the bog fire was set by one of

 

the defendant’s engines, and if one of the defendant’s  engines also set a

 

fire or fires west of kettle river, and those fires combined and burned over

 

plaintiff’s property, then the defendant is liable.

 

Conclusion:

  We find no error requiring a reversal and hence the order appealed

from is affirmed.

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