Monday, November 11, 2013

Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. v. American Cyanamid Co. case brief

Indiana Harbor Belt R.R. v. American Cyanamid Co. case brief summary
916 F.2d 1174 (7th Cir. 1990)

Defendant appealed an order of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, granting summary judgment to plaintiff on claim based on strict liability; plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the dismissal of a negligence count.


Defendant manufacturer of chemicals was sued by plaintiff switching line for cost of decontamination measures that resulted from railroad tank car leak. Plaintiff based its counts on theories of negligence and strict liability arising from an abnormally dangerous activity. The court below dismissed the negligence claim with prejudice and granted summary judgment on plaintiff's strict liability count.


  • On appeal the court found that the strict liability regime did not apply as the leak was not caused by the inherent properties of the chemical; rather, the leak was found to arise from carelessness in transportation. 
  • Also, plaintiff failed to establish hazardous nature of activity. 
  • The court reasoned that accidents that are due to a lack of care can be prevented by taking care, and when a lack of care can be shown in court, such accidents are adequately deterred by the threat of liability for negligence.


The court reversed grant of summary judgment as strict liability based on abnormally dangerous activity was not established where chemical leak was result of carelessness in transportation and negligence regime may provide more adequate regime of accident control. The court remanded for further proceedings on plaintiff's claim for negligence.

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