Merhi v. Becker

In Merhi v. Becker, 164 Conn. 516, 325 A.2d 270 (1973), the plaintiff attended an outdoor picnic planned and sponsored by the plaintiff's union, Local 1010, for the benefit of its union members and their guests. Id. at 272. Approximately 500 people attended the picnic and, for an admission price of $1.50, the patrons were entitled to all of the food and beer they desired. Id. Local 1010 hired one police officer to regulate the grounds. Id. Eventually, an intoxicated patron at the picnic, who was involved in several altercations during the course of the picnic, drove his car in the area of the picnickers and struck and injured the plaintiff. Id. The plaintiff brought a negligence action against Local 1010 for failing to protect its invitees against reasonably anticipated dangers and the jury returned a verdict in his favor. Id. at 271. The union appealed from the verdict and judgment rendered against it, arguing, among other things, that "even if the jury found the defendant negligent, it could not reasonably have found that its negligence was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injuries." Id. at 273. The Supreme Court of Connecticut disagreed with the union and upheld the jury's verdict on both the evidence and the law. On the question of cause-in-fact, the court stated: "If a defendant's negligence was a substantial factor in producing the plaintiff's injuries, the defendant would not be relieved from liability for those injuries even though another force concurred to produce them. And, where the negligence of the actor creates the risk of a particular harm and is a substantial factor in causing that harm, the fact that the harm is brought about through the intervention of another force does not relieve the actor of liability, except where the harm is intentionally caused by a third person and is not within the scope of the risk created by the actor's conduct. Restatement (Second), 2 Torts 442.Even assuming that the assailant's acts constituted an intervening force, that would not, in itself, relieve the defendant Local 1010 of liability, for the harm caused to the plaintiff was, as the jury found, within the scope of the risk created by the defendant Local 1010's conduct." Id. at 273-74. On the question of legal causation, the court reasoned: "Here, the jury could have found . . . that the inadequate policing of a large crowd served alcoholic beverages all day created the foreseeable risk that boisterous and angry occurrences might result in injury to bystanders, and that this risk became more obvious once the brawls involving the assailant occurred. Consequently, no matter how one characterizes the exact nature of the assailant's action in harming the plaintiff, the jury could reasonably have found that it constituted an instance of the general kind of harm that the defendant's negligence would cause, i.e., harm to patrons from inadequately deterred, raucous, violent conduct." Id. at 273.