Mitchell v. Potomac Ins. Co.,
183 U.S. 42 (1901)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Mitchell v. Potomac Ins. Co., 183 U.S. 42 (1901)

Mitchell v. Potomac Insurance Company

No. 51

Argued October 23-24, 1901

Decided November 11, 1901

183 U.S. 42


The Potomac Company insured Mitchell in a sum not exceeding five thousand dollars on his stock of stoves and their findings, tins and tinware, tools of trade, etc., kept for sale in a first-class retail stove and tin store in Georgetown, D.C., with a privilege granted to keep not more than five barrels of gasoline or other oil or vapor. The policy also contained the following provisions:

"It being covenanted as conditions of this contract that this company . . . shall not be liable . . . for loss caused by lightning or explosions of any kind unless fire ensues, and then for the loss or damage by fire only. . . . Or if gunpowder, phosphorus, naphtha, benzine, or crude earth or coal oils are kept on the premises, or if camphene, burning fluid, or refined coal or earth oils are kept for sale, stored, or used on the premises in quantities exceeding one barrel at any one time without written consent, or if the risk be increased by any means within the control . . . of the assured, this policy shall be void."

An extra premium was charged for this gasoline privilege. A fire took place in which the damage to the insured stock amounted to $4,568.50. This fire was due to an explosion which caused the falling of the building and the crushing of the stock. Mitchell claimed that there was evidence of a fire in the back cellar which caused that explosion, and that the explosion

Page 183 U. S. 43

was therefore but an incident in the progress of the fire, and that the company was therefore liable on the policy. The court instructed the jury that, if there existed upon the premises a fire, and that the explosion, if there was an explosion, followed as an incident to that fire, then the loss to the plaintiff would be really occasioned by the fire, for the explosion would be nothing but an incident to fire; but if the explosion were not an incident to a precedent fire, but was the origin and the direct cause of the loss, then there was no destruction by fire, and the plaintiff was not entitled to recover anything from the defendant. Held:

(1) That it was not important to inquire whether there was any evidence tending to prove the existence of the alleged fire in the front cellar because the submission of the question to the jury was all that the plaintiff could ask, and the verdict negatives its existence.

(2) That there was no evidence of any fire in the back cellar preceding the lighting of the match in the front cellar.

(3) That the instructions in regard to gasoline as more fully set forth in the opinion of this Court were correct.

The court further charged the jury: (1) that if the loss was caused solely by an explosion or ignition of explosive matter, not caused by a precedent fire, the plaintiff cannot recover; (2) that, if an explosion occurred from contact of escaping vapor with a match lighted and held by an employee of the plaintiff, and the loss resulted solely from such explosion, the verdict must be for the defendant; (3) that a match lighted and held by an employee of the plaintiff coming in contact with vapor and causing an explosion, is not to be considered as "fire" within the meaning of the policy. Held that each of these instructions was correct.

There is no error in the other extracts from the charge set forth in the opinion of this Court.

The statement of the case will be found in the opinion of the Court.

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