Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co. v. Matlock case brief

Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co. v. Matlock case summary
60 Cal. App. 4th 583 (1997)
Tort Law

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: A minor and his father sought review of a judgment from the Superior Court of Orange County (California), which awarded damages to respondent insurer for negligence relating to a fire caused by a lighted cigarette provided by appellant minor to another minor during an act of trespass.

-Appellant minor and his friend (also a minor) trespassed onto a private storage facility where telephone poles were stacked.
-The friend accidentally dropped a lighted cigarette between the logs, which started a fire.
-The minor had provided the cigarette.
-Respondent, an insurance company, paid damages and filed a cause of action against the minor and his father for contribution as subrogee of the insured friend's rights.
-The trial court awarded damages to the insurance company.
-The court reversed the award on appeal, holding that just because appellant minor violated California Penal Code, there was no negligence per se on which respondent could predicate its negligence claim. -The statute addressed health concerns associated with minor tobacco usage, and not fire suppression.


The court held that there was no ordinary negligence, as the connection between appellant minor's act of giving the cigarette and the fire was too attenuated to show the fire was reasonably within the scope of the risk created by the initial act.

-The court did not find conspiracy or joint venture to start the fire. 
-The court concluded that the fire was not a probable consequence of the trespass.
-The California rule was not created for fire safety reasons.


The doctrine of negligence per se does not apply even though a statute has been violated if the plaintiff was not in the class of persons designed to be protected or the type of harm which occurred was not one which the statute was designed to prevent.

The trial court's judgment awarding damages to respondent insurer against appellant minor and appellant father was reversed.
The court found no ordinary negligence or negligence per se relating to minor cigarette sales on which respondent could predicate its negligence claim.
The fire caused by the cigarette provided by appellant minor was not a probable consequence of the appellant minor's trespass.

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