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People v. Rideout

Scott Caron

ProfessorScott Caron

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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People v. Rideout
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    Brief Fact Summary. Rideout (D) pleaded that the accident caused by his driving while intoxicated (OWI) or visibly impaired (OWVI) was not the immediate cause of Keiser’s death. Keiser had been a passenger in the car hit by Rideout, but had thereafter reached the side of the road safely before returning to the unlit car he had been in, which was in the center of the road. While there, he was struck by another vehicle.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A defendant may not be held guilty of a crime in which his conduct is the cause-in-fact of injury to the victim but is not the proximate cause, since a superseding cause intervened to cause the victim’s injury, a cause which may even be the victim’s own choice to risk his safety.

    Facts. Rideout (D) was intoxicated while driving and collided his SUV with Reichelt’s car, which came to a stop on the middle of the road as a result. Neither Reichelt nor his passenger Keiser were seriously injured. They left their car and got to the road margin, checked on Rideout and then, recognizing the danger that other cars could hit the unlit car, went back to the stopped car to see if they could turn on its flashers. While there beside the car, an oncoming vehicle hit Keiser, killing him. Rideout was convicted of driving while drunk or visibly impaired and thus causing death. During the jury trial the judge instructed the jury on causation-in-fact but not on proximate cause or superseding intervening causes. The instruction included the rule that one of several causes is taken to be a substantial cause of death if but for that cause death would not have happened, unless as a highly unnatural result of the original cause. The jury was also told that for a cause to be a superseding cause it must be the sole cause. Rideout argued that the court’s instructions to the jury were wrong. He claimed that he was not the proximate cause of Keiser’s death. He appealed, and was granted review by the intermediate court of appeals.

     

    Issue. May a defendant be held guilty of a crime in which his conduct is the cause-in-fact of injury to the victim but is not the proximate cause, since a superseding cause intervened to cause the victim’s injury, a cause which may even be the victim’s own choice to risk his safety.

    Held. (Sawyer, J.) No. aA defendant may not be held guilty of a crime in which his conduct is the cause-in-fact of injury to the victim but is not the proximate cause, since a superseding cause intervened to cause the victim’s injury, a cause which may even be the victim’s own choice to risk his safety. The first factor to be noted is that the court’s instructions to the jury was erroneous, since a superseding intervening cause need not be the only cause of injury. This made it possible for the jury to convict Rideout if he was found to be a factual cause of Keiser’s death. It could not find the superseding intervening cause since the criterion laid on it was that it should be the sole cause. This is sufficient reason to overrule the conviction. Secondly, the evidence that Rideout’s driving OWI or OWVI was the proximate cause of the accident is not sufficient. The second and fatal accident happened after Keiser had reached a safe position by the side of the road, but thereafter decided to go back into the road. A superseding cause is mainly backed up by a foreseeable event, and in this case it is foreseeable, though not absolutely,  that an accident victim might check on his vehicle even if it is still on the road. Yet, the universal test for determining if an intervening cause is a superseding one is not yet clear. Several factors helpful in making this determination is foreseeability. A intervening cause may be responsive in which case it establishes the proximate cause, as pointed out by Professor Dressler. A coincidental intervening cause does not prove proximate cause unless it was foreseeable. In the present case, the nature of the intervening cause is not clear. Keiser’s going back into the road to check on the car was a directly responsive event to the accident, but not in direct linkage to Rideout’s driving. The oncoming car was a pure coincidence at that moment, in contrast. Since Keiser decided to enter the roadway, the foreseeability factor is unimportant. The other two factors which are of use in this case are the apparent-safety factor and voluntary human intervention, as identified by Dressler. The apparent-safety doctrine is that a court no longer follows a defendant’s active force once it has reached and stopped at a place of apparent safety. Here, Keiser had reached such a place at the roadside. After being able to reach this place of safety, he decided to expose himself to danger again. This started off a new chain of causation which did not involve Rideout. The second factor, that of voluntary human intervention, makes place for the abdication of criminal liability if there is free, voluntary and consciously informed human intervention. The decision of Keiser to reenter the roadway which he knew to be a dangerous place, means that Rideout’s driving was not the proximate cause of Keiser’s death. The verdict is reversed and the case vacated.

    Dissent. N/A

    Concurrence. N/A

    Discussion. This case concluded that only if Keiser had been unable to reach a point of safety and then had the second fatal collision would the chain of causation have been complete, the absence of apparent safety and voluntary human intervention pointing to the cause in fact being the proximate cause, namely, Rideout’s driving.


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