Accomplice to the Inevitable
A 14-year-old boy and his friends often played on a public bridge in Berlin, New Hampshire, where nearby, there were electrical wires that were owned and maintained by Twin State Gas & Electric Co. One afternoon, while sitting on a horizontal girder, the boy lost his balance and took hold of one of the wires to save himself from falling. He was electrocuted and died instantly. Henry Dillon, the boy’s father, brought suit against Twin State for wrongful death on the boy’s behalf. Had the wires been insulated properly, his son’s life would have been spared. Twin State argued that without the wire present the boy would have fallen into the river, and he would have without doubt been killed.
What should the law be in cases where there are two sufficient causes of harm with one preceding the other (“preemptive causes”)? And what if both causes arrive simultaneously (“merged causes”)? Should there be differences in this regard between monetary cases and cases of life-and-death?