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Commonwealth v. Welansky

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Facts: Welansky was owner and superintendent of a night club in Boston. D spent all his time there. Defendant became ill on Nov. 16, 1942 and was in a hospital bed until Dec. 11, 1942. The condition of the club remained the same from the beginning of his illness until the night of Nov. 28, 1942. There were several exits, but many were blocked or difficult to find. On the night of Nov. 28, 1942, a fire started. The club had decorations that were extremely flammable and the fire quickly spread. There were from 900 to 1050 people in the club at the time. Many people had a difficult time exiting during the confusion and panic that the fire caused. A great number of patrons, and some employees died in the club.

Procedural History: D was charged with numerous counts of involuntary manslaughter based on overcrowding, installation of flammable decorations, absence of fire doors, and failure to maintain proper means of egress. D was found guilty and sentenced from 12 to 15 years for each count.

Issue: Should the D be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter through wanton or reckless conduct?

Arguments: The D did not wantonly kill those people.

Holding: Holding of the trial ct. was correct.

Reasons: D did set up the club the way it was, or permit the set-up of the club to remain as it was, on purpose. "What must be intended is the conduct, not the resulting harm." A reasonable man would conclude that the arrangement was dangerous, and that is equivalent to the D knowing (or be responsible for knowing) that the situation was dangerous. The Ct. was not required to prove that the D caused the fire by some wanton or reckless conduct. Fire in a place of public resort is an ever present danger.

Judgment: Affirmed.