Stubbs v. City of Rochester (N.Y. 1919)

Procedural History: Plaintiff alleges negligence in allowing drinking water to get contaminated, which then caused plaintiff to contract typhoid fever. Trial judge granted a nonsuit, which was upheld by the Appellate Division due to counsel’s argument that the evidence fails to disclose that plaintiff contracted typhoid fever by drinking contaminated water.

Facts: Defendant supplied clean drinking water and contaminated water for firefighting purposes. In the summer of 1910, the water systems became intermingled near the Brown Street Bridge, contaminating the drinking water in that area, one black from where plaintiff worked. Plaintiff lived 3 miles away and did not travel outside of Rochester during the summer of 1910. He contracted typhoid fever in early September and the contaminated water was discovered in October. A physician and health officer confirmed that the water in the area had been contaminated and noted a heavy increase in typhoid fever over the last 9 years, particularly in the areas of contamination and during the time when the contamination was thought to have lasted.

Issue: How much cause must be proven as to the probability that it was defendant’s negligence that caused plaintiff’s injuries?

Rules: There must be enough evidence at trial to show that defendant’s negligence more likely than not was the cause for plaintiff’s injuries? But for the city’s contaminated water, would plaintiff have contracted typhoid fever.

Application: Because there is testimony by medical professionals that it was likely that the contaminated water made plaintiff sick, and because so many other sicknesses were reported in the area where the contaminated water was found, plaintiff should not have to prove that he did not contract typhoid in any other way. That there is evidence that shows it is probable that defendant’s negligence caused plaintiff’s injury is enough to show cause.

Conclusion: Plaintiff, though testimony of medical evidence and statistics, has shown that the facts presented could be made into inferences by the jury as for a verdict to be made on behalf of plaintiff.  Judgment reversed and new trial granted.

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