Campbell v. Central N. Y. Regional Transp. Auth., 2006 NY Slip Op 03193, is a very interesting case in which the Fourth Department considered whether the injuries of a wheelchair-bound plaintiff that was hit by a bus were foreseeable.
The plaintiff suffered from "profound deformities" and as a result, used a highly customized wheelchair which was destroyed when hit by the bus owned by the defendant. The plaintiff was forced to use a wheelchair on loan from a local medical facility that was not customized. As a result, he developed "skin necrosis and abscess formation which required multiple surgical procedures to repair ...." and subsequently sued seeking recovery for those injuries and the replacement cost of his wheelchair.
The Court first noted that liability for negligence turns upon the foreseeability of any harm, not a particular harm and that once a prima facie case has been established, it is the province of the finder of fact to determine the legal cause of the injuries.
The Court further elaborated:
In order to establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must generally show that the defendant's negligence was a substantial cause of the events which produced the injury. Although there are times when [a]n interruption of the nexus between a defendant's negligence and the plaintiff's injury by the act of a third party may affect defendant's liability, the intervening act must be extraordinary under the circumstances, not foreseeable in the normal course of events, or independent of or far removed from the defendant's conduct. When, however, the intervening act is a natural and foreseeable consequence of a circumstance created by defendant, liability will subsist...Invariably, summary judgment is appropriate where only one conclusion may be drawn from the established facts. (Internal citations and quotations omitted.)
Accordingly, the Fourth Department held that the trial court improperly dismissed the Complaint.
The dissent disagreed and stated that:
The record establishes, however, that plaintiff sustained only minor soft tissue injuries that do not qualify as a serious injury within the meaning of Insurance Law § 5102 (d) and § 5104 (a). The record further establishes that the skin necrosis and abscess, which did not appear until approximately two months after the accident, were not related to any injury plaintiff sustained in the accident, but rather were caused by an ill-fitting replacement wheelchair. We must therefore conclude that, although the issue of proximate cause is ordinarily "for the fact finder to resolve," here the ill-fitting replacement wheelchair constituted an "independent intervening [occurrence] which operate[d] upon but [did] not flow from the original negligence".
I think that the majority is correct in regard to the foreseeability issue in this case. But for the accident, the plaintiff's customized wheelchair would not have been destroyed, and he would not have ended up with abcesses, etc. due to the replacement wheelchair. And, the injuries resulting from the inadequate replacement were not so outside the realm of possibility as to be unforeseeable.
However, the dissent touches upon an interesting issue regarding whether the plaintiff's injuries (either directly resulting from the accident or from the non-customized wheelchair) constitute a serious injury. I'm not sure of the answer, but my inclination would be that they don't. Anyone else have an opinion either way?