Three defendants, the Standard Oil Company, Parker, their lessee, and Powell, a contractor, negligently removed an underground storage tank and allowed a large quantity of gasoline to spill and flow on a city street. The fire department was summoned. After the street had been washed, a fireman at the direction of the fire chief touched a lighter to the street to test the effectiveness of the washing. The resulting fire damaged plaintiff’s automobile. The trial court held Standard, Parker, Powell, the fireman, and the fire chief liable. Upon appeal by defendants Standard, Parker, and Powell to the Supreme Court of Kansas, held: Affirmed. The act of the fireman in touching his lighter to the pavement was not so unrelated to the negligent spilling of the gasoline as to constitute the sole proximate cause of the fire. The negligent spilling of the gasoline and the touching of the lighter to the pavement were both proximate causes of the fire and the damage.
It has frequently been recognized that there may be more than one proximate cause of an injury. In most jurisdictions the first wrongdoer, even though his act has merely set the stage on which the second wrongdoer contributes to the plaintiff’s injury, is no longer relieved from liability. The courts argue that the second negligent act is merely a means by which the first wrongful act becomes harmful. One of the tests in delimiting liability in such a case is whether the later negligent act was itself foreseeable. Thus, it is generally held that a defendant will not be relieved of liability by an intervening force which could reasonably have been foreseen, or by an intervening force which is a normal incident of the risk involved.
Marvin L. Holscher,
Torts—Proximate Cause—Superseding Cause,
34 Neb. L. Rev. 150
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