Torts I

Vaughan v. Menlove

Court of Common Pleas, 1837

Facts:

Defendant built a hay rick near his border. Plaintiff had cottages on the other side of the border and repeatedly warned defendant that rick was dangerous because it might catch fire and then spread it to the cottages. Defendant once said that "he would chance it." The rick then caught fire and then spread it to the cottages, completely destroying them.

Procedural History:

The jury was instructed to to consider whether the fire was caused by gross negligence by the defendant, saying that he was bound to act with the reasonable caution a prudent man would have exercised under such circumstances. The jury found for the plaintiff. A rule nisi (conditional court order) was obtained on the ground that the jury shouldn't have been told to consider whether the defendant had been guilty of gross negligence with the standard of ordinary prudence, but whether her had had acted to the best of his judgment.

Issue:

Should one be liable for negligence when he acted to the best of his judgment?

Rule:

The objective standard for negligence is a prudent man.

Reasoning:

Subjective standards would be be far too variable. It had been and should have continued to be an objective standard of the caution of a prudent man.

Holding:

Yes, one should be liable for violating the objective standard of a prudent man, even if it is reasonable to the defendant. Rule nisi discharged. Original verdict upheld.

Takeaway:

Prudence must be judged as being that of a reasonable man.

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