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If reasonable persons might differ in respect of whether the event was proximately caused by the alleged tort, summary judgment is not proper and the case must be fully tried by jury.
On the late evening of November 27, 1988, sixty-five-year-old Hak Yun Chang (Chang) was a passenger in the 1987 Ford van owned and driven by his daughter Yo Cho Shim (Yo). They were travelling northbound on the local lanes of the Garden State Parkway when the plastic cover, spare tire and part of the support bracket that was screwed to the rear of the van fell off the van, rolled across both lanes of traffic, and came to rest against the guardrail separating the Parkway lanes. Yo safely stopped the van on the right berm of the highway. Chang exited the vehicle, ran across two lanes of the dark, rain-slicked roadway, and retrieved the bald spare tire and parts. He was struck by a vehicle operated by Precious Linderman as he tried to return to the van. The van was manufactured by Ford Motor Company (Ford). It was then sent to Universal Motor Coach (Universal) where the van's chassis was converted and spare tire assembly installed before it was shipped to Castle Ford (Castle), the dealer. Yo purchased the van from Castle in its completed state. Miller Manufacturing Corporation (Miller) manufactured the spare tire assembly. On October 27, 1988, one month prior to the accident, Kim's Mobile Service (Kim's) had serviced the van. Kim's notified Yo and Chang that the bracket holding the spare tire was damaged or "bent down," the result of a previous motor vehicle accident. Chang and Yo told Kim's not to repair the apparatus because they were waiting for parts and the determination of insurance coverage. Gloria Yun, as administrator of Chang's estate, and Nam Yi Yun, Chang's widow (hereinafter referred collectively as Yun), brought suit against Ford, Castle, Universal, Kim's and Miller, claiming that the apparatus connecting the spare tire to the rear of the van was defective. Ford, Castle, Universal, Kim and Miller moved for summary judgment, contending that Yun failed to demonstrate that defendants' negligence, if any, proximately caused Chang's injuries. The trial court granted the motions, finding that, as a matter of law, Chang's actions broke the causal chain.
Did the trial court correctly grant the motion for summary judgment of defendants?
Reasonable minds could differ regarding the foreseeability of Hak Yun Chang's injuries and whether the alleged defect was the proximate cause of the injuries. Reasonable persons might differ in respect of whether Chang's death was proximately caused by the defective spare tire assembly. A jury could find that it was reasonably foreseeable that the tire would dislodge and fall onto the roadway while the van was in operation and that the operator or passenger might sustain injuries in his or her attempt to retrieve the tire assembly. In addition, a jury could reasonably find that the harm that resulted was not proximately caused by the defective assembly and that fairness and logic demand that defendants be absolved from responsibility.