Negligent Act as a Proximate Cause of an Accident in New York
In White v. Diaz (49 AD3d 134, 854 N.Y.S.2d 106 1st Dept 2008), the Appellate Division, First Department extensively discussed "the often vexatious question of whether a negligent act may be viewed as a proximate cause of an accident, as opposed to merely furnishing the occasion for it." (White, 49 AD3d at 135.)
Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Saxe stated:
"In a number of cases involving double-parked or illegally parked cars where the accident involving a moving vehicle would not have happened but for the improper parking of the second vehicle, courts have declined to rule as a matter of law on the question of whether the violation of a traffic or parking regulation was a proximate cause of the accident.
In Sullivan v. Locastro (178 AD2d 523, 577 N.Y.S.2d 631 1991, lv denied 81 NY2d 701, 610 N.E.2d 388, 594 N.Y.S.2d 715 1992), a bus illegally parked in an area where no parking was permitted between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. arguably prevented pedestrians from seeing oncoming vehicles and blocked the drivers' view of pedestrians attempting to cross the road, and a child was struck by a car as he tried to check whether it was safe to cross. The Court held that the question of whether the bus's breach of the parking regulation was a proximate cause of the reasonably foreseeable accident was a fact issue for a jury.
Similarly, in Ferrer v. Harris (55 NY2d 285, 434 N.E.2d 231, 449 N.Y.S.2d 162 1982), a child was struck by a car attempting to pass a double-parked ice cream truck, and the Court held that the liability of the ice cream truck driver was a fact question for a jury. And, in Somersall v. New York Tel. Co. (52 NY2d 157, 168, 418 N.E.2d 373, 436 N.Y.S.2d 858 1981), where the plaintiffs, who were gathered on the sidewalk, were struck by a car that mounted the curb, and the driver, who had only a learner's permit, may have been trying to avoid a double-parked utility truck in the road, the Court held that a reasonable jury could conclude that the double parking was a concurrent cause of the accident.
These cases, as well as the Dowling case Dowling v. Consolidated Carriers Corp., 65 NY2d 799, 482 N.E.2d 912, 493 N.Y.S.2d 116 (1985), highlight an important point to keep in mind. Ordinarily, issues of proximate cause are fact questions to be decided by a jury (Derdiarian v. Felix Contr. Corp., 51 NY2d 308, 315, 414 N.E.2d 666, 434 N.Y.S.2d 166 1980).
While it is appropriate to decide the question of legal cause as a matter of law "where only one conclusion may be drawn from the established facts" (id.), where there is any doubt, confusion, or difficulty in deciding whether the issue ought to be decided as a matter of law, the better course is to leave the point for the jury to decide." (White, 49 AD3d at 138-139.)