See Anderson v. Minn. St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Rwy. , 179 N.W. 45 (Minn. 1920) ; accord . Restatement (Third) of Torts: Phys. & Emot. Harm §§ 26-27] Example : A defendant negligently starts a fire in an arid, windy climate. Purely natural forces produce another fire in the same general area. The wind drives both fires, so that they converge upon the plaintiff’s barn at the same time. The barn burns to the ground. In the inevitable lawsuit, the defendant argues that he is not liable, because the but-for test is not met—that is to say, even if the defendant had not negligently started a fire, the barn would have burned down anyway because of the other fire that resulted from natural forces. The defendant is correct that the but-for test is not satisfied here. However, the defendant’s
conduct will nonetheless be deemed to be the actual cause of the damage to the plaintiff’s barn under the substantial factor test. The defendant’s fire and the natural fire both converged simultaneously on the barn. Each fire, standing alone, was sufficient to burn the barn down. Because of the convergence of the fires, it is impossible to tell which fire caused what portion of the damage. Finally, it is clear that the defendant’s fire was a substantial factor in burning the barn down, since the defendant’s fire would have burned the barn down even without the natural fire. Hence, the defendant will be responsible for 100 percent of the damage to the barn. [This example is adapted from Anderson v. Minn. St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Rwy. , 179 N.W. 45 (Minn. 1920) ] Concurrent Causes Doctrine The concurrent causes doctrine applies when two elements are satisfied: (1) multiple acts or forces combined to cause the plaintiff’s harm, and (2) neither act or force, by itself, would have been sufficient to cause the harm. [ See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Phys. & Emot. Harm § 26, cmt. c, i, illus. 4] Where each distinct act or force is the result of a different person’s negligence, then each negligent party may be held liable. Example : A teenage driver negligently swerves his car into oncoming traffic. A trucker sees the teenager’s car coming and swerves to avoid the teenager. However, the trucker is negligent in doing so and strikes a pedestrian with his truck. This inflicts grievous and permanent injuries upon the pedestrian. This is a prime case for application of the concurrent causes doctrine. Neither the negligence of the teenager nor the negligence of the trucker would have caused the pedestrian’s injury standing alone. However, both forces combined to cause the pedestrian’s injury. The teenager’s negligent driving caused the trucker to swerve to avoid the teenager, and the trucker’s negligence in avoiding the teenager caused the trucker to strike the pedestrian. Hence, both the teenager and the trucker will be held liable for the pedestrian’s injuries.
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- Spring '08