D owns and operates a medical-testing laboratory, located in a coastal city. The laboratory performs a variety of tests on blood and tissue samples; it obtains the samples from local doctors and from patients at an in-house clinic. The laboratory tests the samples for drugs, toxins, and diseases, among other things. The lab generates much medical waste, including used tissue samples, used needles, and other refuse. Strict public-health regulations require the laboratory to incinerate unneeded samples, and to handle other medical waste according to stringent protocols.
Compliance with these regulations is expensive, so on June 1, D decides to save money by dumping the samples and other waste into the ocean. As D is an avid sailor who owns a small sailboat, D directs the laboratory staff to place all the waste in 50-gallon barrels, and to load the barrels onto D’s boat. Each barrel is made of heavy plastic, with a lid that snaps in place when pressed over the opening. The barrels rely on no bolts, screws, or welding to keep the lids in place. Supervising the loading, D notices that the waste includes needles and other objects.
With the barrels loaded onto the boat, D takes the boat approximately one mile offshore and dumps the barrels overboard. For the next three weeks, following this procedure, D dumps multiple barrels of waste in the same offshore location twice per week.
Shortly after D’s June 1 round of dumping, the waste begins to wash up on Sunset Beach, a popular public beach two miles down the coast from D’s offshore dumping point. The waste includes needles, syringes, and bags marked “Medical Waste” and “Biohazard.” At first, the quantities of waste are small, but as D continues to dump waste, its volume accumulates.
The town where Sunset Beach is located employs several maintenance workers. Their job is to pick up trash from the beach each morning, before the beach opens to the public. Late on the morning of June 8, a visitor to Sunset Beach, P, steps on a needle lying on the sand; the needle is from D’s lab. The needle punctures P’s foot, which causes P to contract hepatitis, a serious viral disease. The needle was on the sand during the early morning cleanup period, but the maintenance workers overlooked it. Assume that P was not negligent in stepping on the needle.
The local health authorities investigate the waste. Upon learning that the waste came from D’s lab, they shut the lab down. Also, officials determine that the barrels D used for dumping were not waterproof. As the barrels leaked, their lids loosened and fell off, releasing the waste into the water. The ocean currents then carried the waste to Sunset Beach. As soon as authorities identify D as the person who dumped the waste, P sues D for personal injury, on a theory of negligence.
QuestionWith respect to P’s claim, do D’s actions satisfy the causation requirement for negligence liability? Explain, but without analyzing the other elements of negligence.
With respect to P’s claim, do D’s actions satisfy the causation requirement for negligence liability? Explain, but without analyzing the other elements of negligence.