Friday, October 19, 2012

Delaney v. Reynolds case brief

Delaney v. Reynolds (2005)
3 Mass. App. Ct. 239

Procedural History
•    Plaintiff girlfriend appealed the judgment of the Worcester Superior Court Department (Massachusetts), which granted summary judgment in favor of defendant boyfriend. The girlfriend had brought a negligence action alleging that the boyfriend knew that she had serious emotional and mental problems, including thoughts of suicide, but nonetheless negligently kept his loaded gun in a place readily accessible to her.

•    The boyfriend was a police officer. It was his practice to store his handgun, loaded and unlocked, in his bedroom in a duffle bag or in a bureau drawer. On a night when the girlfriend had been drinking and taking drugs, the parties fought, and the boyfriend told her to pack her belongings. While packing, she noticed the duffle bag, removed the handgun, aimed it at a window, and pulled the trigger twice. The gun did not fire. The boyfriend jumped from a sofa and ran after the girlfriend who then went into the master bedroom, put the gun beneath her chin, and pulled the trigger. The gun fired and a bullet entered her chin and existed her right check. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the boyfriend upon the ground that the girlfriend’s intervening act of shooting herself was a superseding cause of her injuries.

•    Suicide or an intentionally self-inflicted injury does not constitute an intervening and superseding cause.
•    HOWEVER, there are some jurisdictions where this wouldn’t even make it to the jury, thus Suicide or an intentionally self-inflicted injury does constitute an intervening and superseding cause.

•    Negligent conduct is the proximate cause of an injury if the injury to the plaintiff was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s negligent conduct. A result is foreseeable if it was not highly extraordinary. That formulation is not altered when the original negligent act is followed by an independent act or event that actively operates in bringing about a plaintiff’s injury, that is, a so-called intervening cause. Where the intervening occurrence was foreseeable by a defendant, the causal chain of events remains intact and the original negligence remains a proximate cause of a plaintiff’s injury. Where, however, the intervening event was of a type so extraordinary that it could not reasonably have been foreseen, that new event is deemed to be the proximate cause of the injury and relieves a defendant of liability
•    A purposeful act of suicide, rather than any antecedent negligence, will be deemed the legal cause of a decedent’s injury unless the defendant’s negligence rendered the decedent unable to appreciate the self-destructive nature of the suicidal act or, even if able to appreciate the nature of the act, unable to resist the suicidal impulse.

•    The court reversed the judgment.

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