Should courts hold that a defendant cannot be proved to “cause” the harm, if the evidence merely supports that it was “more likely than not” that the defendant caused the harm?
Notes: Plaintiff slipped and fell in a puddle of liquid soap on the floor of a Wal-mart store. The plaintiff sued Wal-mart for negligence; however, the evidence—at best—could only support an inference that it was <em>more likely than not</em> that a Wal-mart employee is to blame for the spill. Nevertheless, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff.
When there are multiple possible causes of the plaintiff’s harm—only some of which the defendant is responsible for—should the plaintiff be required to disprove all other possible causes in order to prevail?
Notes: For several months, the defendant waterworks failed to keep sewage-infested water from mingling with the city’s potable water. During this period, the plaintiff drank contaminated tap water and contracted typhoid fever. The plaintiff sued the city on the theory that the polluted water was the cause of his illness. However, typhoid fever was known to have at least eight different causes, many of which are independent from contaminated drinking water. At trial, the plaintiff produced much evidence that supported contaminated drinking water as the likely cause of his affliction. However, he does not provide evidence which eliminates all the other possible causes.
Should courts regard a defendant’s conduct as a liable cause of the plaintiff’s harm if the harm would have occurred irrespective of the defendant’s conduct?
Notes: The plaintiff alleged that defendant’s locomotive started a fire which eventually spread and destroyed some of the plaintiff’s property. However, the defendant contended that the damage was caused by nearby, independent fires of unknown origin. At trial, it was unclear if the plaintiff’s property was damaged by the fire caused by the defendant, the independent fires of unknown origin, or some combination of the two.
Should a defendant’s liability be excused if the action of an unknown intervening party seems to be a more substantial cause of the plaintiff’s injury?
Notes: Plaintiff is a young boy who slipped on ice and water in the vestibule of defendant’s store. The evidence suggested that another customer had caused the spill; however, defendant was unable to provide any evidence identifying a specific customer. There is also evidence that the defendant’s business practice created a distinct possibility of customers spilling drinks in the entrance-ways of the store.
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