There is a terrible death in San Francisco that reads like a perverse torts exam question on factual and legal causation. Barber Luis Gomez, it can be argued, was almost killed by permissive public urination in the city (an issue that we recently discussed with regard to the effort to decriminalize public urination in New York). Gomez, 40, was killed during his commute from a suburb into the city. Because the BART was done, he drove his 1994 Honda Civic into the city. He was then crushed by a falling light pole that officials blamed on human and animal urine corroding its base.
Gomez was on his way home and was stopped at a light with his son in the back of the car and a friend in the passenger seat. The three-story metal light pole, with the street sign attached, crushed the car.
Notably, the problem is not simply the growing problem of public urination in San Francisco but the lack of rain to rain off such surfaces. Combined with the declining number of rest rooms, the level of public urination is on the rise. As we discussed recently, various cities are trying innovative means to combat the problem.
The causal link from a failure to stop public urination to the corrosion of a lamp post to the crushing of a car is clearly a bit attenuated for tort liability. It is reminiscent of the case of Berry v. Sugar Notch Borough, 43 A. 240 (Pa. 1899) where a street car exceeded the legal limit of eight mile per hour and ended up being crushed by a falling chestnut tree. Had it not speeded, it would not have been under the tree but the court rules that it was not actionable and the violation of the statute was a coincidence and not the cause of the incident.
Source: Los Angeles Times