Anderson v. Minnneapolis, st.p. s.stm r.r. co.
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
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
been caused by the negligence of the defendant, swept over a large area.
It merged with another fire of independent and uncertain origin, and the
combined fires burned over plaintiff’s property.
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:
- 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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
We find no error requiring a reversal and hence the order appealed
from is affirmed.