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Whether the complained of negligence is the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury is dependent upon the harm (for which compensation is being sought) being the result of both the natural and probable consequences of the primary negligence. Under Oklahoma law, the causal nexus between an act of negligence and the resulting injury will be deemed broken with the intervention of a new, independent and efficient cause which was neither anticipated nor reasonably foreseeable. Such an intervening cause is known as a supervening cause. To be considered a supervening cause, an intervening cause must be: (1) independent of the original act; (2) adequate by itself to bring about the injury; and (3) not reasonably foreseeable. When the intervening act is intentionally tortious or criminal, it is more likely to be considered independent.
Plaintiffs were injured when the Murrah Federal Building was bombed. Allegedly, the ammonium nitrate (AN) purchased by the bomber in Kansas was mislabeled by manufacturer as fertilizer-grade AN, when in fact it was explosive-grade AN. Plaintiffs filed suit against the defendant manufacturers of the ammonium nitrate, setting forth theories of negligence, negligence per se, negligent entrustment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, manufacturers' products liability, ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activity, and fraud and deceit. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and the plaintiffs appealed.
Under the circumstances, did the victims state a claim for negligence against defendant manufacturers?
The court held that victims could not state a claim for negligence or negligence per se because they had not alleged facts demonstrating that manufacturer's conduct was the proximate cause of their injuries. Victims could point to only two instances of AN being used to create bombs; such bombs were difficult to create; therefore, it was not foreseeable that a bomber would use AN to create a bomb and injure victims. Because the bomber's conduct was unforeseeable, independent of manufacturer, and adequate by itself to bring about victims' injuries, the bomber was a supervening cause of the injuries. As to a statute under which victims claimed negligence per se, AN was not an explosive covered by the statute. Victims failed to state a claim for manufacturers' products liability because there was no adequate allegation that the AN was unreasonably dangerous due either to a defective design or a failure to warn.