Steering Clear of Liability

by Polina Bodner Shapiro, Esq.

In tort law, a defendant can only be held liable for injuring a plaintiff if
the defendant’s negligence caused the plaintiff’s injuries.  There must be a direct link between the negligent behavior and the injury so that the behavior is both the actual and the proximate cause of the injury. The concept of proximate cause limits a defendant’s liability for its negligence to consequences reasonably related to the negligent conduct. In other words, the determination of liability turns on whether the plaintiff’s injury is a foreseeable result of defendant’s actions.

Suppose, for example, that a defendant negligently causes an automobile accident, injuring another driver. The colliding cars also knock down a utility pole, resulting in a power outage. Clearly the defendant’s negligence has in fact caused both the accident and power outage. Most people would agree that the negligent defendant should be liable for the other driver’s injuries, but should he also be liable to an employee who, due to the
failure of her electric alarm clock, arrives late for work and is fired?  Sounds too far-fetched?  Think again – consider the following two recent cases decided by Connecticut courts.
Imagine this scenario: you stopped your car at an intersection, waiting for a break in traffic so you can turn left. Suddenly, due to no fault of your own, your car is struck from behind. You left the wheels slightly turned to the left, anticipating your turn, and as a result of the collision, your car veers into oncoming traffic.

To what extent can you, as the driver, be found liable for the damage to an oncoming
vehicle? Connecticut appellate court discussed this precise situation in  Sic v. Nunan, 128 Conn. App. 692 (2011) and ultimately held that a reasonable jury could conclude that one does in fact owe a duty of care to oncoming traffic. How?  The angle, at which one keeps its wheels while stopped at an intersection, could be an issue for a jury to consider in judging whether a driver breached a duty of care owed to other drivers.

Consider another situation – a truck crashes, spilling diesel fuel over the road. Police
comes, sets up cones and road crews begin the clean-up. Before the spill is cleared, another vehicle hydroplanes on the road slicked by the fuel, and smashes into an emergency vehicle. The driver of that vehicle sustains serious injuries.  Who is at fault: the truck
driver, the town that employs the emergency personnel or the injured driver himself? In Kumah v. Brown, 127 Conn. App. 254 (2011), another recent Connecticut case, the court decided on the issue of liability where several different causes arguably contributed to the plaintiff’s injuries. As too many variables got in the way, the court held that the driver who smashed through the cones and into the accident scene could not blame the truck driver,
who caused the fuel spill. However, the court allowed the plaintiff to proceed with a suit against the town, whose employees could have done more to secure the spill scene.

If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, these are just a few of the many
nuances that can make or break your case or significantly affect how much compensation
you receive.  Give us a call today at the Bodner Shapiro Law Group – our experienced legal team will provide effective legal representation to ensure the best possible outcome for your case!


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