Postal employees (who worked
for the Lord Advocate) were working on an underground cable in Scotland
when they decided to take a break.
They roped the area off and
put up warning signs, but left the manhole open and left lit lanterns
Two boys snuck in, took the
employees' lanterns and were playing around. One of the boys dropped a
lantern into the manhole, there was a fire and explosions, and 8-year-old
Hughes was injured. The boys sued for negligence.
Like most sewers, there was
a lot of flammable methane gas down there.
The Scottish Court ruled in
favor of the Lord Advocate. The boys appealed.
The Scottish Court found
that the postal employees were negligent in leaving the manhole open and leaving lit lanterns nearby.
However, the Court found that
an explosion due to the dropping of a lantern in a sewer was not a foreseeable consequence of leaving a manhole open.
Basically, the Court said
that it wasn't foreseeable that
some boys would enter the site and drop a flaming lantern into the
manhole, so the postal employees couldn't be found negligent for not doing more to prevent the accident.
Maybe if a boy had fallen
into the open hole and been injured, that would be foreseeable, but no one would have guessed that leaving
an open manhole could lead to a big explosion. The Court found that you
could only be liable for things that you specifically could have
expected to happen.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The Appellate Court found
that a fire was certainly foreseeable,
because it was well known that sewers have methane in them. It was also foreseeable that some little kids might be attracted to an
open manhole and want to play there (aka an allurement). Therefore, the postal employees could still
be negligent even thought
the specific accident that occurred wasn't foreseen.
Basically this case said that
if you do something negligent that
and it's foreseeable that
some kind of accident might happen and somebody could get injured, then you are liable, even if the specific way the accident happened was completely unexpected and unforeseeable.