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Every torts professor has a favorite hypothetical about causal responsibility-some wildly improbable and outrageous chain of events triggered by the defendant that somehow leads inexorably to the plaintiff's injury. I have always been partial to the facts of United Novelty Co. v. Daniels. In Daniels the defendant negligently set the nineteen-year-old decedent to work cleaning a coin-operated machine with gasoline; the decedent worked in a small room warmed by a gas heater with an open flame. The gasoline vapors surrounding the machine ignited when a rat ran from the machine into the flame, caught fire, and then ran back toward the machine, causing an explosion that killed the decedent. Naturally, the defendant company argued that it was not causally responsible for the freak accident. Nevertheless, the court upheld a jury verdict against the company because it could have foreseen that setting the decedent to work in the room under these conditions was unduly dangerous.
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