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New York Courts Broaden Foreseeability Rule

A vehicular homicide trial is scheduled to begin for a New York man who was not driving, nor even in the car, at the time of the fatal wreck.
Instead, prosecutors claim that 28-year-old James Ryan’s DUI crash set a series of events into motion which culminated in the death of Nassau County Police Officer Joseph Olivieri. Court documents state that Mr. Ryan clipped a BMW on the Long Island Expressway before striking another car in the carpool lane. Shortly thereafter, after Officer Olivieri arrived on scene to investigate, an SUV driver smashed into Mr. Ryan’s vehicle, killing Officer Olivieri.
The trial court initially dismissed the charges against Mr. Ryan, whose BAC was .13, on the basis that the fatal crash was “solely attributable” to the SUV driver. But an appeals court reinstated the case, because it was “reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s conduct would cause collisions and that the police would respond and be required to be in the roadway, where they would be exposed to the potentially lethal danger presented by fast-moving traffic.”
Mr. Ryan faces up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted.
Foreseeability in a Negligence Case
If breach is the link between duty and cause, foreseeability is the link between cause and damages, and there is basically a broad and narrow interpretation of the foreseeability rule.
Both these views are found in the 1928 case Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. In that case, Ms. Palsgraf and her daughters were waiting on one end of the platform for a train to Rockaway Beach in Queens. Meanwhile, on the other side of the platform, a late-arriving passenger tried to board a departing train. One railroad worker tried to push the man into the train from behind, while another tried to pull him into the car.
In all the chaos, the would-be passenger dropped a package of fireworks. The explosion created a shock wave that affected a large scale on the other side of the platform; the scale toppled over directly onto poor Ms. Palsgraf.
Today, most courts follow the rule in Judge Benjamin Cardozo’s majority opinion. He concluded that the railroad was not liable for Ms. Palsgraf’s damages, because her injury was too remote to be foreseeable by the employees. A few courts follow Judge William Andrews’ minority opinion, and that is the one that New York courts have apparently embraced. Judge Andrews proposed a “zone of danger” test, and Officer Olivieri was clearly in the zone of danger of the wreck that Mr. Ryan allegedly caused.
The law is constantly in motion. For a free consultation with knowledgeable personal injury attorneys, contact our office. Our main location is across the street from Grand Central Station.

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