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Dellwo v. Pearson - 259 Minn. 452, 107 N.W.2d 859 (1961)

Rule:

If an act is one which the party ought, in the exercise of ordinary care, to have anticipated was liable to result in injury to others, then he is liable for any injury proximately resulting from it, although he could not have anticipated the particular injury which did happen. Consequences which follow in unbroken sequence, without an intervening efficient cause, from the original negligent act, are natural and proximate; and for such consequences the original wrongdoer is responsible, even though he could not have foreseen the particular results which did follow.

Facts:

While fishing, plaintiff wife was injured when a boat driven by defendant collided with her fishing line, causing part of her reel to break and strike her eye. Plaintiff wife filed a personal injury action and plaintiff husband filed for consequential damages. The cases were tried together. The jury, instructed that defendant was liable only for consequences that were reasonably foreseeable, found for defendant. On appeal, the court held the instruction was error. Plaintiffs, husband and wife, appealed the judgment of the Hennepin County District Court (Minnesota) finding for defendant in their consolidated cases arising from injuries suffered by plaintiff wife due to the alleged negligence of defendant. 

Issue:

Did the trial court err when it instructed the jury to limit the liability for negligence to foreseeable consequences on proximate cause?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

Judgment for defendant in consolidated negligence actions was reversed and matter was remanded for new trial where jury was improperly instructed that foreseeability of the harm was a test of proximate cause. The correct rule for proximate cause was that if defendant ought to have anticipated that his act was liable to result in injury, he was liable for any injury proximately resulting from it, although he could not have anticipated the particular injury. Consequences in unbroken sequence from the original negligent act were proximate, and defendant was responsible even though he could not have foreseen the particular result. The trial court erred in making foreseeability a test of proximate cause. There can be no question that this was misleading to the jury and therefore prejudicial to the plaintiffs, requiring reversal of the judgment.

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