N.J. KAUFMAN, J.
Defendants Martin Oil Service and Arthur Csokasy
The incident that brought about this lawsuit occurred during the early morning hours of January 12, 1969. At about 1 a.m., defendant Csokasy was working in his Martin Oil service station at the intersection of Joy and Dexter in Detroit when a group of young men drove into the station. Three of the group entered the office of the station and one of the young men told Csokasy that his car had run out of gas down the street.
Csokasy initially refused to give the group any gas because they did not produce the required red can. He also noticed that the person who asked for gas was "hipped up, dancing around". One of the group later admitted that they were all intoxicated.
About 20 minutes later, the young men set fire to the Soul Expression dance hall a short distance from the station. The men had been denied admission to the hall before their trip to defendant Csokasy's gas station. Plaintiffs were injured in the fire.
Substantively, the only question before this Court on appeal is whether defendants owed a duty to plaintiffs, or phrased differently, were the
The threshold element in a negligence case is that there must exist:
"1. A duty, or obligation, recognized by the law, requiring the actor to conform to a certain standard of conduct, for the protection of others against unreasonable risks." (Footnote omitted.) Prosser, supra, p 143.
Thus, unless defendants owed a duty to plaintiffs in this case, the negligence analysis can proceed no further. In Moning v Alfono, 400 Mich. 425, 439; 254 N.W.2d 759 (1977), the Supreme Court noted, "In the Palsgraf [v Long Island R Co, 248 N.Y. 889; 162 NE 99; 59 ALR 1253 (1928)] case, the New York Court of Appeals * * * concluded that no duty is owed to an unforeseeable plaintiff". (Footnote omitted.) A preliminary question that must be answered before exploring the issue of duty is who decides whether a duty exists? Michigan cases have rather consistently held that the issue of duty is for the trial court to decide as a matter of law.
"Prosser puts the matter this way:
"`The determination of any question of duty — that is, whether the defendant stands in such a relation to the plaintiff that the law will impose upon him any obligation of reasonable conduct for the benefit of the plaintiff [is for the court]. This issue is one of law, and is never for the jury. * * *'
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"Prosser, Torts (3d ed), § 52 * * *."
See also Farwell v Keaton, 396 Mich. 281, 286; 240 N.W.2d 217 (1976), concluding: "The existence of a duty is ordinarily a question of law", and Moning v Alfono, supra, at 436-437, noting that "we all agree that the duty question is solely for the court to decide".
The stricture that "the issue of duty is a matter of law" is not without its modifications, however. The Supreme Court has just as consistently held that the existence of facts which give rise to a duty is for the jury to decide. In Farwell, supra, at 286-287, the Supreme Court explained:
"The existence of a duty is ordinarily a question of law. However, there are factual circumstances which give rise to a duty. The existence of those facts must be determined by a jury. In Bonin v Gralewicz, 378 Mich. 421, 526-527; 146 N.W.2d 647 (1966), this Court reversed a directed verdict of no cause of action where the trial court had determined as a matter of law that the proofs were insufficient to establish a duty of care:
"`Usually, in negligence cases, whether a duty is owed by the defendant to the plaintiff does not require resolution of fact issues. However, in some cases, as in this one, fact issues arise. When they do, they must be submitted to the jury, our traditional finders of fact, for ultimate resolution, and they must be accompanied by
"This same rule was stated more recently in Davis v Thornton, 384 Mich. 138, 142; 180 N.W.2d 11 (1970). `The trial judge in this case determined the defendant owed the plaintiff no duty. We believe this conclusion could properly be made only by a jury.'" (Footnote omitted.)
As in this case there were no disputed issues of fact, there was no need to submit any portion of the duty issue to the jury. Therefore, if the trial court was not in error in its disposition of the substantive issue, it was not in error in granting the directed verdicts of no cause of action.
We turn then, to the question of whether defendants owed plaintiffs a duty. The viewpoint has already been expressed that the answer to that question lies, in large measure, in determining whether defendants could have foreseen that these plaintiffs would be injured by their actions. On the facts of this case, we find that the plaintiffs were not foreseeable and therefore affirm the trial court's grant of directed verdicts of no cause of action.
Assuming the truth of the young men's story — that their car had run out of gas — we hold that it should have been foreseen by defendants that giving a group of intoxicated individuals the means to propel a dangerous instrumentality (a motor vehicle) is likely to result in personal injury and/or property damage as a result of the use of the instrumentality. In other words, defendant
In the other cases previously cited, where a duty was found, thus prompting the consideration of the other elements which comprise a negligence action, there were sufficient facts to indicate that plaintiffs were foreseeable.
In Bonin, supra, defendant was aware that his grandchildren were being dressed for the outside. Therefore, defendant could have foreseen those children as potential plaintiffs if he neglected to exercise due care. A duty of care to those potential plaintiffs was owed.
In Davis, supra, defendant was aware of the type
In Farwell, supra, defendant was aware that the plaintiff's decedent was badly injured at the time defendant found him. It was certainly foreseeable to defendant that if he did not exercise due care in obtaining prompt medical assistance, that further injury would befall plaintiff's decedent. Clearly, a duty of care to that potential plaintiff was owed.
Finally, in Moning, supra, defendant was aware of the dangerous propensities of slingshots and was aware that he was selling to a minor who could not be trusted to use the same standard of care as would an adult. Thus, it was foreseeable that a mishandled slingshot could cause direct injury to a person. When combined with the fact that children usually play with other children, it is clear that a duty of care was owed by defendant to at least that class of potential plaintiffs (the playmates of purchasers of the slingshots).
The factual situation in this case differs from the cases cited above. Thus we repeat, the plaintiffs in this case were not foreseeable to defendants as a matter of law; therefore, no duty attached — as a matter of law. As no duty was owed to plaintiffs by defendants, defendants' conduct could not be negligent. Therefore, we affirm the trial court.
"STIPULATION AS TO RECORD ON APPEAL
IT IS HEREBY STIPULATED * * * that the [factual] record on appeal shall constitute the following pleadings:
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"Deposition of Arthur Csokasy dated 5/26/72
"Deposition of Ronald Robinson dated 6/9/76
"Transcript of Judge Richard D. Dunn's Opinion".