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Marshall v. Nugent

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant’s truck ran Plaintiff’s car off the road. Defendant stopped to help Plaintiff and told him to direct traffic. Another car stuck Plaintiff while attempting to avoid hitting Defendant’s truck.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Any extra risk created by a negligent tortfeasor is the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injuries if it is reasonably foreseeable.

    Facts. Harriman, Marshall (Plaintiff’s) son-in-law, was driving when Prince (Defendant, Socony Oil Company) cut a corner and forced him off the road. No one was injured in the accident, and Defendant offered to help get the car back on the road. Plaintiff, a passenger in the car, went to direct traffic around the accident. Before Plaintiff could do so, Nugent (Defendant) swerved to avoid the truck and hit Plaintiff. Plaintiff sued both Defendants for damages from the accident. The jury returned a verdict for Nugent and for Plaintiff against Prince. Prince appealed, claiming that the accident was not the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s injury.

    Issue. Was Prince (Socony Oil Company), the proximate or legal cause of Plaintiff’s injuries?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * Proximate cause is better labeled as legal cause. It is not necessarily true that Defendant’s culpable act must be shown to have been the next or immediate cause of Plaintiff’s injury.
    * Defendant’s culpable act must have been the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s harm. However, it would be disproportionately burdensome to hold a culpable actor potentially liable for all the injurious consequences that may flow from his act. There has to be a limit to the “but for” test. This is the issue of proximate or legal cause.
    * Defendant’s negligence constituted an irretrievable breach of duty to the Plaintiff. Though Defendant’s act of cutting the corner and forcing Plaintiff off the road was over and done with, Plaintiff’s injuries were still a direct consequence of Defendant’s initial act. Defendant’s negligence resulted in a traffic problem in a dangerous blind spot. When Plaintiff had to get out of the car, he was subject to risks of injury.
    * It is not decided, however, if Plaintiff was also negligent in his attempt to direct traffic. The jury should decide whether Plaintiff should be barred by his contributory negligence.

    Discussion. Plaintiff’s injury was not too remote in time or place from the negligent conduct of Defendant. Defendant put Plaintiff in a dangerous situation. The jury could have rightfully decided if Defendant’s initial negligence was the legal cause of Plaintiff’s injuries.


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