Making A Federal Case Out Of It

Two Louisiana men now blame a Texas driver for the injuries they sustained in a serious car crash last year.

According to a lawsuit filed in federal court, Ronald Clauhs was stopped in a traffic lane of eastbound Interstate 10 because of a traffic jam. Shortly thereafter, Scott Liriano, of Bastrop, Tex., approached, apparently failed to stop, and collided with the vehicle at the tail end of the traffic jam that was three vehicles behind Mr. Clauhs, who was operating a car owned by Joseph Dimitri. That collision caused a chain reaction crash that injured Mr. Clauhs. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Proximate Cause

In legalese, the fourth element in a negligence case is an event that causes injury, and the event does not necessarily have to be in a close relationship with the injury, in either a temporal or physical sense. So, Mr. Liriano could be legally responsible for damages, even though he did not actually collide with the plaintiff’s car and may have not even seen it.

To help translate this concept to English, we turn to the 1928 case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad. Helen Palsgraf, who was apparently going through a divorce, was waiting at the station for a train that would take her and her daughters to New York’s Rockaway Beach. While they waited, a late-arriving passenger tried to board a departing train on the opposite side of the platform while that train was already in motion. One railroad employee tried to push the man in from behind and another one tried to pull him up from the inside.

In all this commotion, no one noticed that the man, who some witnesses described as Italian, had a package under his arm. He dropped that package, when turned out to contain fireworks. The pyrotechnics exploded, creating a shock wave that spread to the other platform and caused a large penny scale to topple over onto Ms. Palsgraf.

It should be noted that the facts of this case are disputed to this day, partially because the anti-immigrant climate in New York in the 1920s, especially with regard to recent arrivals from Italy and Eastern Europe,  was not much different from the anti-immigrant climate in many parts of America following 9/11.

Regardless, New York Judge Benjamin Cardozo, who later sat on the United States Supreme Court, ruled that the railroad line was not legally responsible for Ms. Palsgraf’s damages because the injury was not a foreseeable result of the man dropping the package. In dissent, Judge William Andrews articulated the “zone of danger” test which defined foreseeability much more broadly, but this line of thought never really caught on.

The plaintiff’s damages must be a foreseeable result of the defendant’s misconduct. For a free consultation with an experienced Lake Charles personal injury attorney, contact Hoffoss Devall. You have a limited amount of time to act.