This reads like a torts exam question. A group of frat brothers allegedly want to celebrate the end of the year with some book burning at Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. The text books then cause a large fire that ultimately claims not just the frat house but the nearby apartment building. The motto of the fraternity is “Once a Pike, Always a Pike.”
Sophomore and Pi Kappa Alpha president John Chestnut is quoted as saying “I think some of the guys that were maybe doing an end of year celebration and burning some books or whatever.” It appears that the “whatever” got out of control and now an entire apartment building is in ashes. Three firefighters were injured, including one with a broken pelvis after having to jump to safety in the blaze.
There is an obvious case of negligence to be made here. The common law has long struggled with the proximate causation questions raised by fires. THe leading case, Ryan v. New York Central R.R. Co., Ct. of App. of N.Y., 35 N.Y. 210, 91 Am. Dec. 49 (1866), held that (in a case involving a fire started in a railroad woodshed) a party is only liable for damages that are the proximate result of the original fire and that proximate causation cuts off liability as the fire spreads. Generally a fire that ignites an adjacent structure is within the scope of proximate cause, but successive structures risk a decision cutting off liability. Here the nexus seems clear and close.
The next question will be the liability of the university and the fraternity for the rogue actions of students. This is not something that seems foreseeable conduct assuming that there was no forewarning by the students. There may also be questions as the fire protection standards for the fraternity. Hopefully, they did not burn any of the law books — those are likely to come in handy.