Friday, October 19, 2012

Derdiarian v. Felix Contractor Corp case brief

Derdiarian v. Felix Contractor Corp (1980)
51 N.Y.2d 308

Procedural History
•    Defendant employer sought review of an order of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, holding the employer liable in a negligence action for injuries suffered by plaintiff employee, who was struck by a car at his work site.

Facts
•    Plaintiff employee was injured on an excavation job when he was struck by a car driven by a man suffering an epileptic seizure. Plaintiff and plaintiff’s wife sued defendant employer, defendant driver, and defendant contractor for negligence, claiming that the employer failed to maintain a safe work site by erecting a traffic barrier. The trial court found for plaintiff, apportioning defendant employer’s liability at 55 percent.
•    On appeal, defendant employer argued that there was no causal link between the employer’s breach of duty and plaintiff’s injuries. The court affirmed because plaintiff’s injuries were a foreseeable result of the risk created by the employer.
The Rule
•    An intervening act will not serve as a superseding  cause, relieving the defendant of liability, where the risk of the intervening act occurring is the very same risk which rendered the defendant negligent.

Application
•    Depending upon the nature of the case, a variety of factors may be relevant in assessing legal cause. Given the unique nature of the inquiry in each case, it is for the finder of fact to determine legal cause, once the court has been satisfied that a prima facie case has been established.
•    To carry the burden of proving a prima facie case of negligence, the plaintiff must generally show that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury. Plaintiff need not demonstrate, however, that the precise manner in which the accident happened, or the extent of injuries, was foreseeable.
•    Where the acts of a third person intervene between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s injury, the causal connection is not automatically severed. In such a case, liability turns upon whether the intervening act is a normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created by the defendant’s negligence. If an intervening act is extraordinary under the circumstances, not foreseeable in the normal course of events, or independent of or far removed from the defendant’s conduct, it may well be a superseding act which breaks the causal nexus. Because questions concerning what is foreseeable and what is normal may be the subject of varying inferences, as is the question of negligence itself, these issues generally are for the fact finder to resolve.
•    An intervening act may not serve as a superseding cause, and relieve an actor of responsibility, where the risk of the intervening act occurring is the very same risk which renders the actor negligent.

Holding
•    The court affirmed the decision holding defendant employer liable for negligence because plaintiff employee’s injuries were a foreseeable result of defendant employer’s failure to maintain safe work site.

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