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An essential element in a cause of action for negligence is the requirement of a reasonable connection between a defendant's conduct and the damages which a plaintiff has suffered. This element requires, at a minimum, causation in fact--that is, that the harm would not have occurred "but for" the defendants' conduct. The "but for" analysis presupposes that, absent the tortious conduct, a plaintiff would have been spared suffering the claimed harm. The proximate cause of an injury is not merely the direct or close cause, rather it is the negligent act which resulted in an injury which was the act's natural and probable consequence in light of the circumstances and should reasonably have been foreseen and anticipated. An injury may have more than one proximate cause. Proximate cause is generally a question of fact, and therefore summary judgment is rarely appropriate in negligence cases.
Appellant, Charles E. Hellums, and appellee, Alan D. Raber, were each in separate parties that were deer hunting in the same area. Appellee had seen a truck and a youth in the area and assumed there were other hunters in the vicinity. Appellee and the others in his party shot at a deer; when a second deer appeared, hunters in appellee's party, and possibly appellee himself, shot at that deer as well; appellant was struck by a bullet fired by one of appellee's fellow hunters. Appellant sued appellee and the other hunters in appellee’s party for negligence. Appellant alleged that appellee shot his gun negligently and that this encouraged the hunter who shot appellant to shoot negligently as well. Appellee moved for summary judgment on the basis that appellant was not hit by a bullet from appellee's gun, and that appellee therefore had not proximately caused appellant's injuries. The circuit court granted appellee’s motion. Appellant sought review.
Under the circumstances, was the grant of summary judgment in favor of the appellee proper?
The appellate court held that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether appellee was negligent and whether his rapidly firing four rounds from his shotgun in the direction of appellant's party encouraged his hunting partner to discharge his weapon in the same direction. At trial, appellant had to prove (1) that appellee was acting negligently, (2) that it was reasonably foreseeable that appellee's actions would encourage someone else to act negligently, and (3) that the encouragement was a proximate cause of appellant's injuries. The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.