In Kentucky, personal injury cases where negligence is alleged, a plaintiff must establish (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff, (2) breach of the duty, (3) that proximately causes injuries, and (4) actual damages. Negligence, including the element of causation, is never presumed in Kentucky. What happens, however, if some surprising act occurs to cause an accident that is not related to a defendant’s otherwise negligent conduct? A “superseding cause” can absolve a defendant if it is extraordinary and independent — that is not arising out of a negligently created condition.
In a recent unpublished opinion that illustrates how Kentucky looks at the issue of superseding causes, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky considered a case involving two accidents on opposite sides of an interstate highway. The first accident involved the defendant’s car, which she had driven into the median and hit the base of the eastbound bridge under the roadway. The second accident happened when the plaintiffs were driving eastbound. They had come to a total stop in a traffic jam after the defendant’s car’s accident. A tractor-trailer rear-ended their vehicle, killing a family member and injuring another.
The plaintiffs sued the defendant, claiming that her first accident directly and proximately caused their injuries and damages. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that her accident had happened more than a mile away and that the traffic jam was the result of the emergency personnel’s response and the negligence of the tractor-trailer driver, not her driving. The defendant argued that both of these events were superseding causes of the plaintiffs’ injuries. The trial court agreed, ruling that the first responders had stopped traffic and the tractor-trailer’s negligence were both superseding causes. Continue reading