Damages will not, in general, be given for the consequences of wrong-doing, which are not the natural consequences, because it is only for them that the defendant is held liable. Thus, if he has beaten the plaintiff, he must compensate for all the evils which naturally flow from the beating, whatever they may be; but if a slight bruise has been so ill-treated by a surgeon, that extensive inflammation and gangrene have supervened and a limb is lost, the defendant is not answerable for this. Nor, on the same principle, ought he to be held responsible if the same consequences follow from a slight bruise, by reason of the peculiarly unhealthy condition of the plaintiff, if the defendant had no means of knowing this. Still, it is sometimes difficult to draw the line between what are and what are not the natural consequences of an injury. Always, however, if the consequences of the act complained of have been increased * and exaggerated by the act, or the omission to act, of the plaintiff, this addition must be carefully discriminated from those natural consequences of the act of the defendant, for which alone he is responsible. If the plaintiff chooses to make his loss greater than it need have been, he cannot thereby make his claim on the defendant any greater, (s)
(s) Miller v. Mariner's Church, 7 Greenl. 51; Walker v. Ellis, 1 Sneed, 515; Davis v. Fish, 1 Greene (la.), 406, Dorwin v. Potter, 5 Denio, 306. In Loker v. Damon, 17 Pick. 284, the action was trespass for removing a few rods of fence, and it was held, that the proper measure of damages was the cost of repairing it, and not the injury to the crop of the subsequent year, arising from the defect in the fence it appearing that such defect was known to the plaintiff. Shaw, C. J., said: " In assessing damages, the direct and immediate consequences of the injurious act are to be regarded, and not remote, speculative, and contingent consequences, which the party injured might easily have avoided by his' own act. Suppose a man should enter his neighbor's new unlawfully, and leave the gate open; if, before the owner knows it, cattle enter and destroy the crop, the trespasser is responsible. But if the owner sees the gate open, and passes it frequently, and wilfully, and obstinately, or through gross negligence, leaves it open all summer and cattle get in, it is his own folly. So if one throw a stone and break a window, the cost of repairing the window is the ordinary measure of damage. But if the owner suffers the window to remain without repairing a great length of time, after notice of the fact, and his furniture or pictures, or other valuable articles, sustain damage, or the rain beats in and rots the window, this damage would be too remote." But see Heaney v. Heeney, S Denio, 625; Green v. Msnn, 11 111. 613. So in actions for personal injuries, evidence is admissible in mitigation of damages, to show that the plaintiff provoked the injury, or otherwise brought it upon himself. Fraser v. Berkley, 7 C. & P. 621; Watts v. Fraser, 7 id. 369; Calcraft what consequences of an injury a wrong-doer is to be held responsible, (w)1
It is an ancient and universal rule, resting upon obvious reason and justice, that a wrong-doer shall be held responsible only for the proximate, and not for the remote, consequences of his actions. One does not pay money which is due; the creditor, in his reliance on this payment, has made no other arrangements; he is therefore unable to meet an engagement of his own; his credit suffers, his insolvency ensues, and he is ruined. All this is distinctly traceable to the non-payment of his debt by the defendaut; yet he shall be held liable only for its amount and interest; causa proxima, non remota, spectator; and the proximate cause of the plaintiff's insolvency was his non-payment of the debt he himself owed. The cause of this cause was the defendant's failure to pay his debt But this was a remote cause, being thrown back by the interposition of the * proximate cause, (t) In such a case as this the reason of the rule is plain enough. If every one were answerable for all the consequences of all his acts, no one could tell what were his liabilities at any moment. The utmost caution would not prevent one who sustained any social relations from endangering all his property every day. And as very few causes continue to operate long without being combined and complicated with others, it would soon become impossible to say which of the many persons who may have contributed to a distant result should be held responsible for it, or in what proportions all should be held.
We must, then, stop somewhere; but the question where we shall stop is sometimes one of great uncertainty. Not only is there no definite rule, or clear and precise principle given by which we may measure the nearness or remoteness of effect in this respect; but the highest judicial authorities are so directly antagonistic, that they scarcely serve as guides to lead us to a conclusion. For example, the Court of King's Bench, and the Supreme Court of the United States, decide this question as it is presented to them in circumstances of almost exact similarity, in precisely opposite ways, (u) We have been disposed to think that there is a prinv. Harborough, 4 C. & P. 499. But the provocation most have been so recent an to induce a presumption that the injury was inflicted under the influence of it. Lee v. Woolsey, 19 Johns. 319. In Evans-ville, etc. K. R. Co. v. Lowdermilk, 15 Ind. 120, it was held, that where a person's own negligence contributed to his death, the company was not liable, although guilty of negligence, unless bo gross, as to imply a willingness to inflict the injury. (t) Archer v. Williams, 2 Car. 4 K. 26.
(u) Ad insured vessel, having sunk another vessel, by accidental collision, was sentenced by a foreign Admiralty Court (acting on a peculiar local law), to pay one half the value of the lost vessel. It was held in Peters v. The Warren Ins. Co. S Sumner, S89, 14 Peters, 99, that a peril of the sea was the proximate cause of the loss of the sum thus paid, and that the insurers were liable for it. The very same point arose about the same time in the Court of King's Bench, and received a directly opposite adjudication. De Vaux ciple, derivable on the one hand from the general reason and justice of the question, and on the other hand applicable as a test, in many cases, and perhaps useful, if not decisive, in all. It is that every defendant shall be held liable for all of those consequences which might have been foreseen and expected as the result of his conduct, but not for those which he could not have foreseen, and was therefore under * no moral obligation to take into his consideration;(v) There seems little reason to object to this rule in cases where the act complained of was voluntary and intentional. And if it be said that where the act is wholly involuntary, as where the defendant's ship runs down another at anchor, in a dark night, there is no reason for asking what consequences he should have expected, when he had not indeed the least thought of doing the thing itself, it may be answered, that even here it will generally be found, that the consequences which at the time would have been foreseen, by a person of intelligence and deliberate observation, are just those which are so far the direct, immediate, and natural effects of the act, that the doer of the act ought, on the general principles of common justice, to be held responsible for them. Another principle distinctly applicable to the question whether a cause of "damage " was proximate or remote, is this: Did the cause alleged produce its effect without another cause intervening, or was it made operative only through and by means of this intervening cause? (vv) We apprehend that this principle is involved in the later maxim above quoted. Remota means only "removed," whereas our English word "remote" has now acquired the sense of "distant." But it is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to lay down definite rules, which shall have, in all cases, practical value or efficacy in determining for v. Salvador, 4 A. & E. 420. And on this question we cannot but prefer the reasons and conclusions of the English court. The maxim, causa proximo., non remota, spectatur, may be applied with more strictness to contracts of insurance, than in attentions respecting damages, but the difficulty and uncertainty in its application are equally great in both cases. The authority of Peters v. Warren Ins. Co. is ranch lessened by the later cases of Gen. M. Ins. Co. v. Sherwood, 14 How. 352, and Matthews v. Howard Ins. Co. 1 Kern. 9. See the chapters on the Laws of Shipping and on Marine Insurance.