Union Pump Co. v. Allbritton
898 S.W.2d 773 (Tex. 1995)

Facts:

  • A fire occurred at Texaco Chemical Company’s facility when a pump manufactured by Union Pump Company caught fire and ignited the surrounding area.
  • Approximately two hours later, the fire was extinguished.
  • Allbritton then went with her supervisor to check on a potential problem with a nitrogen purge valve.
  • Allbritton was injured when she slipped / hopped off of a wet pipe rack that she was using as a shortcut.
  • But for the pump fire, she asserted, she would never have walked over the pipe rack, which was wet with water or firefighting foam.
  • Among other claims, she brought a strict liability claim for the defective pump.

History:

  • The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant.
  • The court of appeals reversed.

Issue:
The question before this Court is whether Union Pump established as a matter of law that neither its conduct nor its product was a legal cause (i.e., proximate cause) of Allbritton’s injuries. Stated another way, was Union Pump correct in contending that there was no causative link between the defective pump and Allbritton’s injuries as a matter of law?

Holding:
Yes. Case reversed.

Reasoning:

  • At some point in a causal chain, a defendant’s conduct or product may be too remotely connected with the plaintiff’s injury to constitute legal causation.
  • Legal cause is not established if the defendant’s conduct or product does no more than furnish the condition that makes the plaintiff’s injury possible.
  • Here, “even if the pump fire were in some sense a ‘philosophic’ or ‘but for’ cause of Allbritton’s injuries, the forces generated by the fire had come to rest when she fell off the pipe rack. The fire had been extinguished, and Allbritton was walking away from the scene. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Allbritton, the pump fire did no more than create the condition that made Allbritton’s injuries possible.”
  • In short, the injuries were too remotely connected with the pump to constitute a legal cause of her injuries.
  • This was a line-drawing issue.

Rule: At some point in a causal chain, a defendant’s conduct or product may be too remotely connected with the plaintiff’s injury to constitute legal causation.