Summers v. Tice – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Summers v. Tice, 33 Cal. 2d 80, 199 P.2d 1 (Cal. 1948).

Facts

Summers (P), Tice, and Somonson (Ds) were hunting quail. Tice flushed a quail which flew between Summers and the defendants. Defendants fired their shotguns and Summers was struck in the eye and upper lip.

There was no evidence to show which of the defendants fired the shot that struck Summers in the eye. Summers brought a personal injury lawsuit against both defendants and the trial court found that both men were liable. Tice and Somonson appealed on the grounds that they were not joint tortfeasors and they had not acted in concert. They also asserted that there was insufficient evidence to establish which of them had caused Summers’s injuries.

Issue

  • If two defendants are negligent in concert and damage is caused such that only one or the other would be liable, which party will be held liable for the damage if the plaintiff is unable to show which defendant in fact caused the injury?

Holding and Rule

  • If two defendants are negligent in concert and damage is caused such that only one or the other would be liable, both defendants will be liable for the damage if the plaintiff is unable to show which defendant in fact caused the injury.

When a party is harmed as a result of the tortious conduct of another, a third party is liable if he (1) knows that the conduct of the person causing the harm constitutes a breach of duty and gives substantial assistance or encouragement, or (2) gives substantial assistance to the person causing the harm in accomplishing a tortious result, where the conduct of the third party, separately considered, constitutes a breach of duty to the injured party.

Public Policy

Each joint tortfeasor is responsible for the whole damage because of the practical unfairness of denying an injured person redress simply because he cannot prove how much damage each party did, when it is certain that between them they did all.

Disposition

Judgment for Summers affirmed.

Notes

The alternative causation test is applied when harm results from the negligent conduct of two or more parties and the party that caused the injury in fact cannot be determined. Under the alternative causation test, the burden of proof shifts to each of the defendants to show that she did not cause the injury. This doctrine is similar to res ipsa loquitur (see Ybarra v. Spangard) insofar as both doctrines call for a shift in the burden of proof to the defendant when certain necessary evidence is outside the control of the plaintiff.


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