Summary of Yun v. Ford Motor Co., Sup. Ct. N. J. App. Div. 1994
Relevant Facts: Chang was a passenger in a 1987 Ford van owned and driven by his daughter. Upon hearing a rattling noise, the plastic cover and spare tire and part of the support bracket which was screwed to the rear of the van, landed directly behind Yun’s van and then rolled across both lanes of traffic or were pushed there by another vehicle, ultimately coming to a rest against the wooden guard rail separating the Parkway lanes. Chang was struck by an automobile on the Garden State Parkway while retrieving the spare tire that had fallen off of a Ford van in which he was a passenger. Approximately seven months later, he died of the injuries sustained. one month prior to the subject accident, defendant Kim had serviced the Ford van. Kim removed the spare tire from the bracket and used it to replace the worn left front tire. Kim thereafter placed the worn tire in the bracket and secured it. Chang advised Kim that the bracket holding the spare tire was damaged, “bent down,” apparently as a result of a motor vehicle accident that occurred several months earlier. Chang and Yun told Kim not to repair. Pl Gloria Yun (administrator the estate of Chang Hak Yun).
Legal Issue(s): Whether the Pls injury is the proximate cause of dfs failure to exercise care in repairing the bracket?
Court’s Holding: No
Procedure: Pl appeal from a summary judgment dismissing their claims against defendants
Law or Rule(s): 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. Proximate cause is ” ‘any cause which in the natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by an efficient intervening cause, produces the result complained of and without which the result would not have occurred.
Court Rationale: Chang’s attempt to retrieve the parts involved crossing the Parkway in both directions–an activity which cannot be described as anything short of extraordinarily dangerous, if not suicidal, as the action proved. His actions were “highly extraordinary.” Liability should not extend to injuries received as a result of Chang’s senseless decision to cross the Parkway under such dangerous conditions. Common sense should have persuaded Chang, who was only a passenger, to wait for assistance or abandon the tire and damaged assembly. the alleged defect in the spare tire assembly did not injure Chang. The driver of the van was able to pull the vehicle to the side of the road safely and without incident. the presence of the spare tire created a “condition upon which the subsequent intervening force acted” and in such case there is no proximate cause relationship between the defective product and the injury.
Plaintiff’s Argument: The defective spare tire carrier did caused Chang’s injuries.
Defendant’s Argument: There was no proof of proximate cause and that the actions of Chang in seeking to retrieve the spare tire and assembly and that of the driver of the automobile that struck him broke the causal chain.
Conduct constituting proximate cause need only be a cause which sets off foreseeable sequence of consequences, unbroken by any superseding cause, and which is substantial factor in producing the particular injury.
Theory – Plaintiffs claimed that the accident was a result of the “negligent manufacture, distribution, service and/or warranty” of the van and its parts by Ford, the manufacturer, and Castle, the dealership.
Minority View – In any case where there might be reasonable difference of opinion as to the foreseeability of a particular risk, the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct with respect to it, or the normal character of an intervening cause, the question is for the jury, subject of course to suitable instructions from the court as to the legal conclusion to be drawn as the issue is determined either way.