Vaughan v. Menlove – Case Brief
Vaughan v. Menlove, (1837) 3 Bing. N.C. 467, 132 E.R. 490 (C.P.).
Facts: Menlove (D) built a hay rick near the boundary of his property not far from Vaughan’s (P) cottages. Menlove was warned on several occasions that the rick was a fire hazard. Menlove replied that he had insurance and he would chance it. D built a chimney through the rick; however the rick was ignited by the heat generated and the ensuing fire damaged Vaughn’s cottages.
P sued D claiming that D had been negligent in maintaining the rick in a dangerous condition. The trial court instructed the jury to apply the standard of care of that of a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances in order to determine if D had been negligent. The jury returned a verdict in favor of P. D was granted a rule nisi for a new trial on the grounds that the jury should have been instructed to determine whether D had acted true to his best judgment as the standard of care.
Issue: 1) Is the standard of care under negligence based on the judgment of each individual? 2) What is the standard of care owed by a landowner in the use of his land?
Holding and Rule (Tindle): 1) No. The standard of care under negligence is not based on the judgment of each individual. 2) A landowner is under a general duty of care to use his land without negligently causing injury to others. The standard for negligence is that of a reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances.
The court held that even though D did not light the fire he was as much responsible for it as if he had put the candle to the rick himself, and noted that it was a well known fact that hay will ferment and take fire if not carefully stacked.
(Vaughan): There was gross negligence because D had been warned repeatedly of the risk and chose to ignore that risk.
Notes: The actual disposition of the defendant and his own thoughts were not relevant. Mere good faith is not sufficient to relieve one of liability.