The expiration of a significant length of time militates against foreseeability and proximate cause of an injury. The lapse of time standing alone, however, does not prevent an act from being the proximate cause of subsequent injury. The intervention of other causes and the break of the chain of events is very likely to occur where the time lapse is considerable in length.
The complaint alleges that the juvenile shooter sustained injuries about the head and body as the result of the negligent operation of an automobile by the defendant driver when the shooter was three years of age. Plaintiff juvenile was shot by the shooter with a .25 caliber rifle seven years later. Plaintiff, through his guardian ad litem, brought a negligence action against defendant driver, seeking recovery for personal injuries. It is claimed that the initial automobile accident and injury to the plaintiff are related to the injuries suffered by the shooter by reason of the fact that the shooter was in such a physical and mental condition that he was unable to realize the nature and consequence of his act, was not able to resist pulling the trigger of the rifle and was deprived of his capacity to govern his conduct in accordance with reason. The bills of particular allege that the defendant negligently and carelessly set into operation a force that continued undetected until culminating in the shooting of plaintiff and that the negligence of the defendant set into operation an involuntary force which was likely to injure others, including the plaintiff. Defendant driver filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings which the court granted.
Was the automobile accident the proximate cause of an injury received by third party plaintiff, a stranger to the prior accident, some seven years after?
The court reasoned that while the defendant driver may have been negligent with respect to the shooter, that negligence was not of such nature that it could have been said to have been the proximate cause of the victim's injuries. The initial negligence of the driver came to rest. The subsequent shooting of the victim was not a natural and probable consequence that could have been foreseen.