Sunday, February 3, 2013

McClenahan v. Cooley case brief

McClenahan v. Cooley case summary
806 S.W.2d 767 (Tenn. 1991)
Tort Law

PROCEDURAL HISTORY: Plaintiff survivor challenged the judgment of the Court of Appeals (Tennessee), which affirmed the trial court's grant of judgment on the pleadings in favor of defendant car owner. The trial court had dismissed the survivor's wrongful death action for his wife and two children and his personal injury action for another child against the car owner, holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 55-8-162 did not apply.

-The survivor's family members were killed by a car thief who ran a red light.
-The survivor's complaint contended that the car owner knew or should have known that it was unlawful to leave the keys in the ignition of an unattended vehicle, and that he knew or should have known that the place where he had parked the vehicle created a foreseeable likelihood that the vehicle would be stolen.
-The claim was made that the actions of the thief were a foreseeable and expected result of the car owner's purported negligence.
-The lower court held that the intervening negligence of the thief insulated the car owner from liability, and that Tenn. statute had no application to vehicles left unattended in privately owned parking lots.


-The court found the central issue to be whether a jury should have been be permitted to determine the issues of proximate causation and intervening cause where the keys were left in the ignition of a parked automobile that was subsequently stolen and thereafter involved in an accident.
-The issue of foreseeability as it related to proximate cause and intervening cause should have been submitted to a jury.

An intervening act, which is a normal response created by negligence, is not a superseding, intervening cause so as to relieve the original wrongdoer of liability, provided the intervening act could have reasonably been foreseen and the conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.

CONCLUSION: The court reversed the lower court and remanded the case, expressly rejecting the contention that an intervening criminal act automatically broke the chain of causation as a matter of law. The court concluded that reasonable minds could differ as to whether a person of ordinary prudence and intelligence through the exercise of reasonable diligence could or should have foreseen the theft of an unattended automobile with the keys in the ignition.

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