P was riding in a van on a highway at night when the spare tire and cover fell off the back and rolled to the median. The van stopped on the side of the highway.
65-year-old P crossed the highway, retrieved the tire, and was struck and killed by a car on the way back to the van.
P alleged that the spare tire assembly was faulty and sued everyone in sight.
Trial court granted summary judgment for Ds.
NJ Superior Court affirmed.
Later, NJ Supreme Court reversed, reinstated claims based on dissent below.
How should proximate cause be determined in cases involving extraordinary circumstances?
A D's conduct may be held not to be a proximate cause of harm to another where after the event and looking back from the harm to the D's negligent conduct, it appears to the court highly extraordinary that it should have brought about the harm.
Proximate cause is any cause which in the nature and continuous sequence, unbroken by an efficient intervening cause, produces the result complained of and without which the result would not have occurred.
Proximate cause must be limited to those causes which are so closely connected with the result and of such significance that the law is justified in imposing liability.
A liberal construction of proximate cause allows that conduct constituting proximate cause need only be a cause which sets off a foreseeable sequence of consequences, unbroken by any superseding cause, and which is a substantial factor in producing the particular injury.
P's actions were highly extraordinarily dangerous and stupid.
Logic and fairness dictate that liability should not extend to injuries received as a result of P's senseless decision to cross the interstate.
The alleged defect did not injure P; they could have driven home or waited for assistance.
It was not reasonably foreseeable to Ds that if the assembly was defective that the P would run into the median to retrieve the tire and be killed by a passing car.
The question of proximate cause and foreseeability is usually left to the jury unless reasonable minds could not differ about issue. Here, reasonable minds could differ as to whether P's death was proximately caused by the defective assembly.
A jury could find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the tire would fall onto the roadway and that a passenger might sustain injuries while trying to retrieve it.
Judges tend to be conservative. What may appear strange to judges might be ordinary to others. Thus, this should go to a jury.
The presumption is that these should go to a jury unless no reasonable jury could find for the P.