Blyth v. Birmingham Water Works Co.

Court of Exchequer, 1856.

11 Exch. 781, 156 Eng.Rep. 1047.

Prosser, pp. 132-133

 

Facts: The defendants installed a fire plug near the plaintiff’s house that leaked during a severe frost, causing water damage.  The jury found the defendant negligent, and the defendant appealed.

 

Issue: Were the defendants negligent?

 

Rule: The defendants are negligent only if they fail to do what a reasonable person would have done or do something a reasonable person would not have done.

 

Analysis: The court found that the extreme frost that caused the damage in this case was not within the contemplation of the defendants and that the result of the frost was an accident.

 

Conclusion: The court entered a verdict for the defendants.

 

Notes and Questions

 

1.     Based on the present case, the defendant is not liable because the defendant’s conduct was reasonable under the circumstances.

2.     The contractor is not required to take precautions in Chicago, but is required to do so in San Francisco.  It is a reasonable thing to do there.

3.     In order to decide whether failing to plan for lightning is negligence, I would want to know how likely it is that lightning would strike each of these places, what measures can be taken to prevent harm from lightning, and how expensive those measures are in relation to the possible benefit that can be obtained from preventing such harm.

 

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