Meekins v. Ford Motor Co
In Meekins v. Ford Motor Co., 699 A.2d 339 (Del. Super. Ct. 1997), a Delaware trial judge set out a comprehensive analysis discussing the arguments on both sides of the issue, before ultimately concluding that principles of comparative fault should apply in enhanced injury cases.
First, the court reasoned that while some cases may present a clear factual delineation between primary injuries and secondary injuries, whereby the driver's comparative fault should be excluded from consideration, most cases do not.
The court stated that there are usually several acts of negligence involved, all of which may have been a cause of the plaintiff's injuries, and "it would be difficult and confusing to instruct a jury that it should not consider the cause of the collision but only the cause of the enhanced injuries." 699 A.2d at 345.
Second, the court was concerned that a rule excluding consideration of the plaintiff driver's fault in causing an accident would logically extend to prevent the plaintiff from suing a negligent third party who caused the accident, and thereby run counter to well-established principles of tort law:
"Another logical hurdle inherent in plaintiff's position is this. If a plaintiff negligently crashes his vehicle into a tree and suffers an enhanced injury because of a design defect in his car, plaintiff says that the manufacturer is liable for the enhanced injury regardless of the plaintiff's negligence in causing the collision. But what if a plaintiff collides with another vehicle and the driver of that vehicle is negligent? Assume also that the enhanced injuries caused to the plaintiff by a design defect in his car are clearly identifiable. Under ordinary rules of proximate cause the other driver would have potential liability for all of the plaintiff's injuries, but logically, following the enhanced injury theory of the plaintiff, only the manufacturer should have the liability because the other driver's conduct in causing the initial collision would not have caused the injury absent the design defect. Thus, carrying the theory to its logical conclusion, plaintiff should have no recovery against the other driver for his negligence in causing the collision. This result would run counter to well settled principles of tort law." Id.
Finally, the court noted that the rule concerning proximate causation should be no different in enhanced injury cases than that applied in ordinary negligence cases.
It reasoned that "the existence of other proximate causes of an injury does not relieve a plaintiff driver under Delaware's comparative negligence statute from responsibility for his own conduct which proximately caused him injury. . . . Public policy seeks to deter not only manufacturers from producing a defective product but to encourage those who use the product to do so in a responsible manner." Id. at 345-46.
Thus, the court concluded that "it is obvious that the negligence of a plaintiff who causes the initial collision is one of the proximate causes of all of the injuries he sustained, whether limited to those the original collision would have produced or including those enhanced by a defective product in the second collision." Id. at 346.