Derdiarian v. Felix Contracting Corp.

414 N.E.2d 666 (N.Y. 1980).

Derdiarian is the plaintiff. Won in both the trial and appellate court, and the defendant made this final appeal.


Was there an intervening cause to the plaintiffs injuries that would result in no liability on the defendant?


If the acts of a third person intervene between the defendant’s negligent conduct and the injury of the plaintiff, the causal connection is NOT automatically broken.

If that is the case, then we need to look to see if the act is a normal or foreseeable consequence created by the defendant’s negligence.


This was a foreseeable consequence of the negligence, causal connection is not broken. Defendant is liable. Affirmed.


The plaintiff was working in a road construction site when a car driver had a seizure, swerved off the road into the site and seriously injured the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued both the driver and the general contractor (he worked for a subcontractor). The issue here is whether the workplace had negligently failed to provide barriers so that the work environment was safe to work.


One of the foreseeable consequences of not putting up barriers is an automobile coming into the workplace and causing an injury. Although the defendant argued that the circumstances leading to the injury were extraordinary (no one would have expected the driver to have a seizure), the accident is foreseeable because that is what the negligent act would have caused.


Run through our causation formula:

Why were they negligent?

  • Prevent workplace accidents from cars.

Was the injury foreseeable?

  • Yes, the barriers are there to prevent the injury and the injury occurred, so the causation link is not broken.

Additional Notes

What did the plaintiff claim to show that the defendant was negligent? There were not enough barriers to protect the workplace. How can we prove that? Through expert testimony saying that there were insufficient measures taken to protect the area.

The defendant’s would argue that there were superseding acts that broke the causal nexus. That is, that the driver was negligent that broke the cause. Also, that the other party broke the cause by how he placed the tools.

So here, the court does a risk analysis:

Why are they negligent?

  • Prevent the harm of being hit by a car in the workplace.

Was there foreseeability of the consequence?

  • Yes, but if there is a question, this is for the jury.

Risk analysis:

  • What are the risks that caused us to hold them negligent in the first place.
  • Are the consequences from the occurrence one of those risks that were established in step 1?
  • If so, then this is a question for the jury

The precise matter of how the consequence comes about does not matter so much.

Watson v. Kentucky & Indiana Bridge & R.R. Co.

126 S.W.146 (Ky. App. 1910).

Watson is the plaintiff. Lost (without a jury) and appealed.


Wast the action of dropping and/or throwing the match at the ground a contributing cause or the proximate cause of the injuries?


Criminal actions immediately break the causal connection. Otherwise, there is still liability.


This is a question for the jury. Reversed.


The defendant had negligently derailed a train and gasoline spilled everywhere. An individual came up and the evidence is disputed as to whether he light a match then dropped it, or if he deliberately threw it at the ground. Either way, a match was ignited, dropped, and an explosion ensued which injured the plaintiff.


This is supposed to be a question for the jury and the trial court was wrong to determine that the actions of the match lighter was malicious. If it was malicious, then there is a break in liability. However, if he was not malicious, then the defendant can still be liable (a foreseeable act of an explosion as a result of a negligent train derailment). Therefore, it is a question of the jury to determine the criminal actions of the intervening cause.

Additional Notes

Note the difference between a supervening cause and an intervening cause. A supervening cause is a type of intervening cause where the cause is so unforeseeable that it cuts liability for the defendant’s negligence. If the result is not so unforeseeable, then the cause is only a “mere” intervening cause and the defendant can still be liable.

This Watson case is all about mischief and whether that can be considered a supervening cause.

We need to ask what were the possible explanations of the ignitor’s conduct:

  • Innocent
  • Negligent
  • Reckless (Knew there was a potential for an issue and acted anyways)
  • Malicious/intentional/criminal (purposefully wanted to set the place on fire)

Why is pinpointing the proper explanation important? We are wondering if his conduct supersedes the negligence of the railroad. How do we determine this? We need to examine the foreseeability of the conduct. Malicious/intentional and possibly reckless conduct is unforeseeable whereas innocent and negligent acts could be foreseeable.

Most of the time, criminal conduct will supersede liability. However, this is not always the case, leaving it a question for the jury. See Bell v. Board of Edu., 687 N.E.2d 1325 (N.Y. 1997).


What if a bird took a still smoldering discarded cigarette bud and dropped it in the area which caused the fire? A defendant would argue that the circumstances were so unpredictable that the cause was unforeseeable. The plaintiff would argue that the harm we were trying to avoid was a fire, and a fire occurred. If the actions of the intervening cause is not reckless or malicious, then we do not care how the fire started.

In other words, an unforeseeable means of obtaining a result does not mean that the result was unforeseeable.

Fuller v. Preis

322 N.E.2d 263 (N.Y. App 1974).

Plaintiff was awarded a jury verdict which the trial court dismissed. Plaintiff appealed.


Whether the suicide was an “irresistible impulse” caused by the brain damage received in a car accident. Is the instigator of the accident liable for that action?


If a person acts with purpose, that can serve as an intervening cause. Otherwise, the defendant can still be liable.


Could have been seen as an irresistible impulse which means that the defendant can still be liable. Reversed and new trial.


Estate of the plaintiff sues the defendant which hit the decedent with his car. Although the decedent walked away with no physical injuries, he later had several seizures. Previously, he had no record of having a seizure. These went on for several months before one day he committed suicide.


Because there is a question as to whether his actions were created by an irresistible impulse to destroy himself, or if the act was conscious, the matter needs to be decided by a jury. The jury decided that he had an irresistible impulse and so the dismissal was wrong, overturned, and a new trial is needed.


Most of the time, suicide is considered an intervening act negating liability. However, the case above shows when that is not necessarily the case.

Additional Notes

As a matter of law, most of the time, suicide is considered a superseding cause that causes the defendant to not be liable. However, there are some courts that say that an irresistible impulse of suicide can keep the defendant liable. So, the defendant is going to try and prove that there is no irresistible impulse by providing evidence that the decedent had planned out the suicide in some way (left a note, went and purchased a gun or shell, etc.)

McCoy v. American Suzuki Motor Corp.

961 P.2d 952 (Wash. 1998).

McCoy is the plaintiff. He had sued several defendants but all that is left is American Suzuki Motor Corp. The trial court dismissed, the appellate court reversed and Suzuki appealed.


Does the rescue doctrine apply in product liability actions?

Does the plaintiff need to show proximate causation under the rescue doctrine?

Did Suzuki proximately cause McCoy’s injuries?


The rescue doctrine allows an injured rescuer to sue for injuries sustained during a rescue. For those injuries, the plaintiff must show that the defendant proximately caused them.


Appellate court was wrong to say that the plaintiff does not need to show proximate cause. This is a jury question. Affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.


The plaintiff was following a car which got out of control and rolled off the road. He stopped to assist. When the police arrived, he was asked to set up flares to direct traffic. He did so. Once the driver and passenger was cleared, he was returning with the flares when he was struck from behind by a hit and run vehicle. He sued several parties for their negligence that caused his injury during the rescue.


There is no dispute that the plaintiff had met rescue status here. Because Suzuki was a products manufacturer, this is a products liability claim. The doctrine can apply because the courts sees no reason for it to not apply. Additionally, the plaintiff needs to show that the manufacturer proximately caused the injury because there is no difference between these causation cases as others.

Finally, whether Suzuki proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries is a jury question. Suzuki argued that it was not foreseeable that a third car would have hit the plaintiff. However, if the plaintiff can show that the Suzuki defects had caused the accident, then the two are related enough to present a jury issue. Therefore, this case should be remanded and sent to the jury.

Additional Notes

McCoy had no duty to stop and help. However, he did help. He was a rescuer. There is a difference between a rescuer and a volunteer. A rescuer is more valued by the court.

The rescue doctrine allows the plaintiff to sue the person whose negligence created the need for the rescue. The reason for this is that “danger invites rescue”. In other words, the negligence caused a danger, and it is foreseeable that someone would come to the rescue.

Requirements for a rescuer:

  1. Defendant was negligent to the person who was rescued which caused an image of peril.
  2. The appearance of peril was imminent.
  3. A reasonably prudent person would have concluded that the appearance of peril existed.
  4. The rescuer acted with reasonable care.

How long does the rescue efforts stay attached to the negligence of the defendant. The rescuer remains a rescuer until a reasonably prudent person could conclude that the appearance of peril has ended. Quite often, what ends a rescue is when the extra risks created by the negligence have been resolved.

When a rescuer acts innocently, any aggravating injuries will still be liable to the original defendant. Same with negligent acts by the rescuer. However, when we get to reckless, there is more of a question.

This does not apply to professional rescuers though. This is because it is there job.

So, how do we address all this?

  • Ask, what is foreseeable? (Why do we hold them negligent? What are the risks?)
  • Ask, does risk analysis help us analyze this? It helps, but doesn’t give us an answer.
  • Ask, what is the role of emergency doctrine? This can help us determine whether the rescuer was acting with reasonable care.
  • Finally, ask, what is the role of comparative fault? Does it change how much liability is on the defendant?


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Categories: 1L Fall, Torts

Will Laursen

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