Restatement 2d of Torts, § 302

Restatement 2d of Torts, § 302


§ 302Risk of Direct or Indirect Harm

A negligent act or omission may be one which involves an unreasonable risk of harm to another through either

(a) the continuous operation of a force started or continued by the act or omission, or

(b) the foreseeable action of the other, a third person, an animal, or a force of nature.



a.    This Section is concerned only with the negligent character of the actor’s conduct, and not with his duty to avoid the unreasonable risk. In general, anyone who does an affirmative act is under a duty to others to exercise the care of a reasonable man to protect them against an unreasonable risk of harm to them arising out of the act. The duties of one who merely omits to act are more restricted, and in general are confined to situations where there is a special relation between the actor and the other which gives rise to the duty. As to the distinction between act and omission, or “misfeasance” and “non-feasance,” see § 314 and Comments. If the actor is under no duty to the other to act, his failure to do so may be negligent conduct within the rule stated in this Section, but it does not subject him to liability, because of the absence of duty.

b.    A special application of Clause (b) of this Section, involving the risk of harm through the negligent or reckless conduct of others, is stated in § 302 A. A second special application of Clause (b), involving the risk of the intentional or criminal conduct of others, is stated in § 302 B.

c.    The actor may be negligent in setting in motion a force the continuous operation of which, without the intervention of other forces or causes, results in harm to the other. He may likewise be negligent in failing to control a force already in operation from other causes, or to prevent harm to another resulting from it. Such continuous operation of a force set in motion by the actor, or of a force which he fails to control, is commonly called “direct causation” by the courts, and very often the question is considered as if it were one of the mechanism of the causal sequence. In many instances, at least, the same problem may be more effectively dealt with as a matter of the negligence of the actor in the light of the risk created.


1.    A sets a fire on his own land, with a strong wind blowing toward B’s house. Without any other negligence on the part of A, the fire escapes from A’s land and burns down B’s house. A may be found to be negligent toward B in setting the fire.

2.    A discovers on his land a fire originating from some unknown source. Although there is a strong wind blowing toward B’s house, A makes no effort to control the fire. It spreads to B’s land and destroys B’s house. A may be found to be negligent toward B in failing to control the fire.

D.    Probability of intervening action. If the actor’s conduct has created or continued a situation which is harmless if left to itself but is capable of being made dangerous to others by some subsequent action of a human being or animal or the subsequent operation of a natural force, the actor’s negligence depends upon whether he as a reasonable man should recognize such action or operation as probable. The actor as a reasonable man is required to know the habits and propensities of human beings and animals and the normal operation of natural forces in the locality in which he has intentionally created such a situation or in which he knows or should realize that his conduct is likely to create such a situation. (See § 290.) In so far as such knowledge would lead the actor as a reasonable man to recognize a particular action of a human being or animal or a particular operation of a natural force as customary or normal, the actor is required to anticipate and provide against it. The actor is negligent if he intentionally creates a situation, or if his conduct involves a risk of creating a situation, which he should realize as likely to be dangerous to others in the event of such customary or normal act or operation. (See § 303.)

e.    Meaning of “normal.” The actor as a reasonable man is required to anticipate and provide against the normal operation of natural forces. And here the word “normal” is used to describe not only those forces which are constantly and habitually operating but also those forces which operate periodically or with a certain degree of frequency.


1.    A erects a swinging sign over the highway. He is required to keep it in such condition that it will not be blown down, not only by the ordinary breezes which are of everyday occurrence, but also by the gales which experience shows are likely to occur from time to time.

f.    Normal conditions of nature. As stated in § 290, Comments g and h, the actor is required to recognize the fact that a certain number of animals and human beings may act in a way which is not customary for ordinary individuals, and that there are occasional operations of natural forces which are radically different from the normal. It would, however, be impracticable to set a standard of behavior so high as to require every man under all circumstances to take into account the chance of these exceptional actions and operations. Therefore, except where the actor has reason to except the contrary, he is entitled to assume that human beings and animals will act and the natural forces will operate in their usual manner, unless their exceptional action or operation would create a serious chance of grave harm to some valuable interest and there is little utility in the actor’s conduct. Thus a motorist driving along a highway is entitled to assume, unless he has special reason to expect the contrary, that other motorists will keep to the right side of the road, since motor traffic would be unduly hindered unless motorists were free to act on that assumption. On the other hand, a motorist approaching a railroad crossing is not entitled to assume that the railway company will comply with its duty to blow the whistle and ring the bell, but is required to take very great precautions to look out for trains which have not given such notice of their approach.

g.    Abnormal conditions of nature. The actor is not required to anticipate or provide against conditions of nature or the operation of natural forces which are of so unusual a character that the burden of providing for them would be out of all proportion to the chance of their existence or operation and the risk of harm to others involved in their possible existence or operation. It is therefore not necessary that a particular operation of the natural force be unprecedented. The likelihood of its recurrence may be so slight that in the aggregate the burden of constantly providing against it would be out of all proportion great as compared with the magnitude of the risk involved in the possibility of its recurrence.


1.    In 1938 a hurricane caused serious damage in a city in New England. There is no record of any hurricane of similar force within the preceding 130 years. A, thereafter constructing a building in the city in question, is not negligent in failing to adopt an expensive method of construction which would make it safe against damage from a similar hurricane.

2.    The same facts as in Illustration 4, with the additional fact that by 1957 hurricanes of similar violence have recurred four times in New England. A, constructing a building in 1957, may be found to be negligent in failing to adopt a method of construction which would make it safe against such hurricanes.

h.    If the actor knows or should perceive circumstances which would lead a reasonable man to expect a particular operation of a natural force, he is required to provide against it, although, but for such circumstances, it would be so extraordinary that he would be entitled to ignore the possibility of its occurrence.


1.    A moors his boat in a river fed by mountain streams. The moorings are sufficient to prevent the boat from being cast adrift by any stage of water likely to occur at that season of the year. A sudden cloudburst in the mountain causes an extraordinary flood which sweeps his boat away, causing it to collide with the boat of B. A may be found to be negligent if he has or should have such knowledge of the occurrence of the cloudburst as to give him reason to expect the unusual and otherwise unforeseeable flood.

i.    Action of domestic animals. The actor as a reasonable man is both entitled to assume and required to expect that domestic animals will act in accordance with the nature of such animals as a class, unless he knows or should know of some circumstances which should warn him that the particular animal is likely to act in a different manner.

j.    Action of human beings. As stated in § 290, the actor is required to know the common qualities and habits of other human beings, in so far as they are a matter of common knowledge in the community. The actor may have special knowledge of the qualities or habits of a particular individual, over and above the minimum which he is required to know. His act or omission may be negligent because it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to another through the intervention of conduct on the part of the other, or of third persons, which a reasonable man in the actor’s position would anticipate and guard against. As to the actor’s negligence where such foreseeable conduct is itself negligent, see § 302 A. As to his negligence where the foreseeable conduct is intentional or criminal, see § 302 B.


This Section has been changed from the first Restatement by rewording it to include negligent omissions as well as acts. The original Comments j to n inclusive, with the accompanying Illustrations, have been shifted to Sections 302 A and 302 B, which involve special applications of the rule stated in this Section.

Restatement of the Law, Second, Torts

Copyright (c) 1965, The American Law Institute


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