Friday, November 16, 2012

Strauss v. Belle Realty Co. case brief

Strauss v. Belle Realty Co. case summary

-A power system failure left a city shrouded in darkness.
-A tenant at a building suffered an injury in one of the building's common areas due to the power outage, and the tenant says that the power company had a duty of care to him.|
-The tenant was fetching water from the basement and fell.
-The power company had a contractual agreement with the tenant in regard to the tenant’s space and a contractual agreement with the landlord as to the common areas.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY -The lower court used its power to grant a collateral estoppel against the power company regarding gross negligence and denied the power company’s cross motion to dismiss the complaint, because the court thought that there was a question of fact as to whether the power company owed a duty of care to the plaintiff.
-The Court of Appeals reversed and dismissed the complaint against the power company.

ISSUE-Does a power company owe a duty to a P whose injuries from a fall on a darkened staircase may be conceivably foreseeable, if there is no contractual relationship for the lighting of the common areas?

-No. Judgment affirmed.

  • Although a contractual duty is not a prerequisite to finding that a duty of care exists, the courts have a duty to protect a defendant from “crushing liability”
  • A utility company’s liability in a case where it failed to provide services would be enormous if not limited only to Ps with a contractual relationship with the company
  • Moch: a water company’s liability would be unduly extended if it allowed a company whose warehouse burned down to sue the water company
  • The court reserved the question of what remedy would apply in a case where the utility company was guilty of reckless or wanton indifference
  • Because the power company in this case was guilty of a lower level of misconduct (gross negligence) than contemplated by the Moch court, the Moch case controls this one.
  • There is an argument that the injuries were foreseeable and that the P was part of a specific, limited, and circumscribed class with a close relationship to the power company.
  • This does not alter the outcome of the case, because the power company provides electricity to millions of customers, and this would do nothing to limit the power company’s exposure to liability to reasonable levels.
  • Also, the argument here would not prevent a landlord’s invitees or people making deliveries from suing the power company.
DISSENT-The majority does not look at public policy from all angles—may not lead to crushing liability—it may be able to pass the burden of financing damage awards on to its stockholders and customers.
-The majority has ignored the burdens placed on the injured parties and seems to be making the argument that the more people injured through a tortfeasor’s gross negligence, the less liable the tortfeasor is.

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