All law students are required to take a class called Torts, which is basically the wrongs that can happen in society such as car accidents, assaults and batteries, malpractice, etc. As part of that class, law students are taught the concept of causation. That is, when there is a sequence of events, can you really blame the person who started the sequence, for all the harm caused by it, even if it the ultimate harm was unforeseeable and unlikely? The famous case is called Palsgraf, a 1928 case (click here for a little primer on causation).
A Palsgraf-type accident occurred yesterday at an Encinitas car wash. In the afternoon, a car wash employee lost control of a customer’s Jeep. The Jeep struck a customer putting money in a tip jar, then hit a Honda Civic, which was pushed into three people standing nearby. The Honda then spun out of control and hit an electrical transformer, knocking it off its base and catching fire. The fire then spread to the Honda and the Jeep, catching both vehicles on fire. The Jeep then rolled out the driveway and hit a parked Mercedes. Nine businesses in the area then lost power.
Thankfully it sounds like no one was seriously injured. But it raised the question: Is the car wash liable for all the damage? Including the Mercedes? The answer is Yes (unless there are some facts that we don’t know about). We always thought Palsgraf was a once-in-a-million event. In Encinitas yesterday it appears the million was up.