Torts I

Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co.

Court of Exchequer, 1856

Facts:

Defendants installed water mains in the street with fire plugs at various places. A plug by plaintiff's house leaked as a result of a severe frost, causing water damage to plaintiff's house. The plug worked fine for twenty-five year prior.

Procedural History:

Jury found the defendant liable for negligence and awarded a judgment, which he appealed.

Issue:

Is defendant liable for not preparing pipe against severe frost?

Rule:

To be liable for negligence by omitting something, it has to be something that a reasonable person would have done.

Reasoning:

The pipe had not had problems with any previous winters, and only caused damage when the frost unforeseeably severe. A reasonable person would not have expected such a severe frost and therefore would not have prepared against it. Therefore, plaintiff is not liable for negligence.

Holding:

No, an abnormally severe frost is not something a reasonable person would prepare for. Verdict for the defendants.

Takeaways:

  • To be liable for negligence by omitting something, it has to be something that a reasonable person would have done.

  • Bell's: Must be reasonable in average circumstances.

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