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Yun v. Ford Motor Co. - 276 N.J. Super. 142, 647 A.2d 841 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 1994)

Rule:

Proximate cause must be limited to those causes which are so closely connected with the result and of such significance that the law is justified in imposing liability. 

Facts:

Chang Hak Yun (Chang) was struck by an automobile on the Garden State Parkway while retrieving a spare tire that had fallen off of a Ford van in which he was a passenger. Approximately seven months later, he died of the injuries sustained. Plaintiffs brought suit against the defendants, claiming that the apparatus connecting the spare tire to the rear of the van was defective. Plaintiffs claimed that the accident was a result of the "negligent manufacture, distribution, service and/or warranty" of the van and its parts by Ford, the manufacturer, and Castle, the dealership. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add defendants Universal and Kim. Plaintiffs alleged that Universal was "responsible for the [negligent] installation, assembly, manufacture and/or distribution of a conversion kit to the defectively manufactured 1987 Ford [v]an." Plaintiffs contended that Kim had "improperly serviced the 1987 van and caused a hazardous condition to occur." In their third amended complaint plaintiffs alleged that Miller was "responsible for the [defective] manufacture of the spare tire carrier."

Issue:

Was the alleged defect in the attachment of the spare tire the proximate cause of Chang’s death?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

Under the most liberal interpretation, conduct constituting proximate cause "need only be a cause which sets off a foreseeable sequence of consequences, unbroken by any superseding cause, and which is a substantial factor in producing the particular injury." An alleged defect in the spare tire assembly caused the spare tire and other parts to fall off the van and roll across the Parkway. Because the van in which Chang was travelling came safely to rest at the side of the Parkway, his actions were "highly extraordinary." Chang's attempt to retrieve the parts involved crossing the Parkway in both directions--an activity which cannot be described as anything short of extraordinarily dangerous, if not suicidal, as the action proved. In the process of returning from the middle of the Parkway, Chang was struck by Mrs. Linderman and fatally injured. Logic and fairness dictate that liability should not extend to injuries received as a result of Chang's senseless decision to cross the Parkway under such dangerous conditions. Common sense should have persuaded Chang, who was only a passenger, to wait for assistance or abandon the bald tire and damaged assembly. The van could have been driven safely home.

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