In class, we often discuss the limitations on liability from fire under the common laws. This weekend showed how extensive, and foreseeable, such damage can be with a gas explosion. On Friday night, a strip club exploded in Springfield, Massachusetts — burning ten buildings including The House of Mercy church next door.
In cases like Ryan v. New York Central R.R. Co., courts have limited liability to the most direct consequences of negligence rather than remote consequences dependent upon wind and weather. That often means that buildings destroyed away from the epicenter of a fire may fall outside of the reach of proximate causation. Judge Richard Posner noted in Edwards v. Honeywell, 50 F.3d 484 (7th Cir. 1995), that there remain a “nonduty of care of railroads in avoiding fire damage to anyone other than the owner of buildings or other property actually struck by the railroad’s sparks, as opposed to owners of property to which the fire that had been started by those sparks spread.”
However, in this case, a gas explosion has a wider area of direct causation — though it is not clear whether, if there were negligence, the negligence was that of the strip club or the gas company.
Moving from the mundane to the divine, we have often discussed the curious sense of divine deliverance that often follows natural or man-made disasters. Pastor Mitchell Plaud declared that God had spared him because the explosion occurred shortly before he arrived for services.
Now I can understand the view that God would smite down Scores Gentlemen’s Club, though a divine clerical error blocking a permit might have been less messy. Yet, Plaud saw something more personal and reverential in the moment: “God saved me because my service starts at 6:30 p.m. and I usually come early to church, and the explosion happened at 5:25 p.m.”
There were, however, nearly two dozen injuries, including 11 firefighters. It appears that they were not quite as good with God or their timing was simply off.
I understand the sense of relief at such moments, but I always find it odd that one would believe that God spared you in a disaster but not others. It seems a bit arbitrary even egotistical to stand amid rubble that destroyed the homes or lives of neighbors and claim individual deliverance. It would suggest that one’s neighbors were on less of than a good footing with the Almighty, wouldn’t it?
By the way, couldn’t the strippers and their customers claim the same deliverance (though a brave gas worker would appear the most direct answer).
Both the church and the strip club (as well as other buildings) were destroyed or rendered unusable.