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Watson v. Kentucky & Ind. Bridge & Ry. Case Brief

Summary of Watson v. Kentucky & Ind. Bridge & Ry., 137 Ky. 619, 126 S.W. 146 (1910)

Facts: Due to D’s negligence, a railroad tank car derailed and gasoline escaped to the streets and surrounding area.  One Charless Duerr threw a match in the gasoline and an explosion followed and P was injured.  There was conflicting evidence whether Duerr intentionally threw the match in gasoline or that was an innocent yet negligent act.

Procedure:  The trial court granted D’s motion for summary judgment.

Issue: Did the trial ct. err by ruling that D was not the proximate cause of the injuries?

Holding: Yes

Rationale:  The question of proximate cause is one for the jury to decide.  If the jury in this case decides that Duerr intentionally threw the match in the gasoline, then D will not be liable because such criminal act is not foreseeable.  But if the jury finds otherwise, then D is liable.  According to the court, “It is well settled that the mere fact that there have been intervening causes between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injuries is not sufficient in law to relieve the former from liability…” In the current case, it was obviously foreseeable that the gasoline that escaped due to the negligence of D could have come in contact with a cigar, a match, etc. and if Duerr’s act was not wanton or intentional, then D should be held liable for P’s injuries.  Reversed and remanded.

Side note: Not all cases where an intervening actor intentionally or criminally acts will free the original negligent party from liability.  Where such intentionally or criminal acts are foreseeable, the intervening actor will not be considered a superseding cause (see Kush v. City of Buffalo).




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