Torts I, Pages 126–127

Surocco v. Geary

Supreme Court of California, 1853

Facts:

A fire was burning towards plaintiffs' house. Plaintiffs were removing their possessions from their house when defendant, the alcalde of San Francisco, blew up their house to prevent the fire from spreading beyond it, although this did not stop the fire. Plaintiffs would have had time to finish removing their possessions if defendant had not destroyed their house.

Procedural History:

Trial court found for plaintiff.

Issue:

Can a person who destroys the house of another in good faith and apparent necessity during a time of conflagration to save adjacent buildings be held liable?

Judgment:

Reversed.

Reasoning:

The common law has long recognized that necessity provides a privilege. One stubborn individual who would lose their house anyway cannot prevent others' from being saved. Requiring the destruction to wait for the owners to get their goods out would often lead to the destruction coming to late to do any good.

Rule/Holding:

Yes, a house may be destroyed to prevent a fire from spreading when it is necessary like here.