In reading Ken Abraham’s excellent article on “Self-Proving Causation,” I was introduced to a delightful Louisiana case captioned above. Plaintiff and his family were at a station to board a train. The train was delayed until 2AM, and to get from the station to the platform the passengers had to go down a set of stairs without a railing or lights. When the train arrived, passengers were told to “hurry up” because it was running behind schedule. Plaintiff’s wife, who was described as “a corpulent woman, weighing two hundred and fifty pounds,” fell and broke her leg.
The railroad argued that ‘but for” cause was not established, since plaintiff’s wife could have fallen in the same way in broad daylight. The Court rejected this argument:
[W]here the negligence of the defendant greatly multiplies the chances of accident to the plaintiff, and is of a character naturally leading to its occurrence, the mere possibility that it might have happened without the negligence is not sufficient to break the chain of cause and effect between the negligence and the injury.
This is a sound explanation of a kind of “res ipsa loquitur” for causation that was subsequently adopted by other courts. I was also interested to learn that corpulent was used as a noun, as the opinion later says that plaintiff’s wife was “a corpulent, though not infirm.” Anyway, the cite is 37 La. Ann. 694 (1885).