What Constitutes A Claim Of Negligence Per Se Under Kansas Law?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Plains Transport of Kansas, Inc. v. Walter L. King, 224 Kan. 17, 578 P.2d 1095 (1978).
This case addresses the following issue:
What constitutes a claim of negligence per se under Kansas law?
In this case, the court was asked to determine when the violation of a law can constitute a claim of negligence per se. Id. at 25. Under Kansas law, a claim for negligence per se involves the violation of a law, which can be a statute, a regulation, or even a city ordinance. Id. The violation of the law establishes a breach of a “duty,” or legal obligation owed by the defendant. Id. The harm suffered by the plaintiff must be attributable to this violation of law, and not to another occurrence. Id. In this case, though the Defendant clearly violated a regulation, that violation was not the cause of Plaintiff’s injury; thus, Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se failed. Id. at 25-26.
Plaintiff was a company that transported large quantities of gasoline to service stations. Id. at 18. A driver was making such a delivery to Defendant. Id. Defendant instructed Plaintiff’s employee to fill the underground tank first, then fill an above-ground surplus tank. Id. The legs of the tank did not comply with fire safety regulations, specifically not being graded to withstand sufficiently high temperatures. Id. at 19. As Plaintiff’s driver was filling the tank, he heard sounds indicating that the tank was overflowing. Id. at 18. Before the driver could reach the cab to stop the pump, the entire rig burst into flames. Id. As the fuel burned, the legs supporting the above-ground tank gave from the heat, causing thousands of gallons of gasoline to spill. Id. at 19. This lead the fire to continue burning for a much longer period of time. Id. Once the blaze was finished, the rig and tanker-trailer were completely destroyed. Id.
Plaintiff sought to recover on the theory of negligence per se, arising from Defendant’s non-compliance with regulations concerning the tank’s legs. Id. at 25. Defendant admitted to the violation of the regulations. Id. However, Plaintiff was not entitled to judgment because it still had to prove an additional fact: “the requirement the violation be the proximate cause of the damages of which plaintiff seeks recovery.” Id. Defendant had put on evidence showing that, even aside from the spilling of the additional gasoline, the rig and tanker would have been completely destroyed. Id. Thus, the violation was not the proximate cause of the damage and Plaintiff’s claim for negligence per se failed. Id. at 25-26.