In torts exams, professors will often string a series of unexpected events together in a proximate cause scenario. A case out of Oregon seems right out of such an exam narrative. Thomas Hannah, 28, is accused of getting into an argument with a female friend in the parking lot of a U-Haul center in Eugene. He proceeded to light and throw a firework at her, which promptly caused four trucks (and a gas thief) to catch fire.
Police say that the woman ran for cover, but the sparks hit residual gas near the thief who then caught fire.
Clearly Hannah did not know about the thief or seek to do him harm. Yet he fled the scene (as did the thief). Despite the lack of knowledge, Hannah is still charged appropriately with second-degree criminal mischief, reckless burning and reckless endangerment.
The gas thief remains at large but was seen fleeing while on fire.
An interesting case would arise if the thief sued Hannah for negligence per se. Hannah violated state law in his use of the firework. The question would be the comparative negligence of the thief, however, while engaged in criminal conduct. Moreover, there is a clear risk of fire in his crime. The question is whether such comparative negligence or assumption of risk could trump liability.