Negligence of Defendant Concurring with Other Causes

Posted Tuesday, January 03, 2017 by Ed Harper

Negligence of Defendant Concurring with Other Causes

WPI 15.04 states the following: “There may be more than one proximate cause of the same injury/event. If you find that the defendant was negligent in that such negligence was a proximate cause of injury or damage to the plaintiff, it is not a defense that some other force/cause or the act of some other person who is not a party to this lawsuit may also have been a proximate cause.

“However, if you find that the sole proximate cause injury/damage to the plaintiff was some other force/cause or the act of some other person who is not a party to this lawsuit, then your verdict should be for the defendant.”

This jury instruction points out there may be more than one proximate cause for the same injury. The acts of different persons or entities though may concur and/or coincide in producing the same injury. In such a case all would be liable. The question of whether or not the actors or participants are held jointly or separately liable is dependent on the number of factors set forth in RCW 4.22.030 and 4.22.070 both enacted as part of the 1986 Tort Reform Act.

The case Rollins v. King County Metro Transit, Wn.App. 370, 379 (2009) discusses this instruction: “How to instruct on damages will often depend upon the circumstances of the case, which is one reason for the discretion invested in the trial judge. Here, the practical question was how to focus the jury upon the damages caused by the negligence of the defendant (King County). The instructions accomplished that and properly stated the law. The court did not abuse its discretion.” Rollins, at 382.

In Rollins v. King County Metro the facts are as follows:

In May 2005 teenager Carmen Rollins and two of her friends were riding on the King County Metro bus.

After they boarded the bus, approximately 35-50 teenagers boarded the bus and started to intimidate young Carmen Rollins. An incident in the bus arose and horrible things were said to Ms. Rollins. Subsequently, Rollins and her friends began to be assaulted and brutally beaten.

Rollins and her friends attempted to call the police and were rebuffed. They also tried to exit the bus and were prevented from doing so.

At the same time the bus driver, an employee of the King County government, did not even react. The bus driver did nothing to assist Ms. Rollins and her friends and merely drove off after Carmen exited the bus. Finally, the police arrived and called for an ambulance. The jury found King County Metro caused damage in the amount of $138,520 for Ms. Rollins and $127,196 for one of her friends.

In this case, the plaintiff sought damages only for injuries caused by the negligent conduct of King County Metro and not the intentional conduct of the assailants. The plaintiff sued King County Metro alleging at neglected its duties as a common carrier and failing to maintain a safe environment.

“Jury instructions are sufficient if the permit each party to argue it’s theory of case, or not misleading, and properly inform the jury of the applicable long when read as a whole” See Rollins, at 382.

The jury here was instructed the plaintiffs have the burden of proof to show Metro was negligent, that Metro’s negligence was a proximate cause of plaintiffs’ injury, that there may be more than one proximate cause of an injury, and that its verdict should be for Metro if it found the sole proximate cause of injury was a cause other than Metro’s negligence. (This is a quote from 148 Wn.App. 379)

How to instruct on damages will often depend on circumstances of the case here the practical question was how to focus the jury upon the damages caused by the negligence of the defendant. The instructions are accomplished that improperly state of the law. The court did not abuse its discretion Rollins, at 382.

The court further stated in calculating a damage award you must not include any damages that were caused by acts of the unknown assailant and proximately caused by negligence of the defendant any damages caused solely by the unknown assailant proximately caused by the negligence of defendant King County must be segregated from and not be part of any damage award against King County. Rollins.

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