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Summers v. Tice

From lawbrain.com

Summers v. Tice 33 Cal.2d 80, 199 P.2d 1 (1948), is a seminal case in American Jurisprudence regarding Tort Law and the theory behind Negligence.

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Summary of Case Facts

Taking place in California, Summers and two individuals, Simonson and Tice, went out on a quail hunt. During the hunt, Summers was acting as a guide for Simonson and Tice. At some point during the hunt, they each began falling behind Summers. Suddenly, a quail flew out froom the brush in front of them, and both of the men discharged their weapons with two pellets striking Summers one in his lip and the other in the eye.


When there is more than one defendant and the court is unable to determine eactly which defendant(s) is liable, which party will be held liable for the damage to the plaintiff?

Holding and Law

The court had to decide which party was responsible. Unable to determine which individual was responsible for firing the pellet, the court decided that both individuals would be equally liable. In tort cases where liability is at issue, it is the moving party, or said another way, the plaintiff, who bears the burden of going forward with the evidence to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendants are liable.

On appeal, the defendants argued that the court must decide exactly which one of them was responsible. The court concluded that both pellets could have come from one defendant, or one from each, and thereby shifting the burden from Summers, the plainitff, to the defendants. Since the defendants would have no way of proving as much, they were both held liable.

This case has gone on to have wide implication in the field of product liability and has helped expand the theory behind contributory negligence and indemnification.

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