Johnson v. Jacobs

970 N.E.2d 666 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011)

 

RULE:

A willful, malicious criminal act of a third party is an intervening act that breaks the causal chain between the alleged negligence and the resulting harm. Although proximate cause is generally a question of fact, proximate cause becomes a question of law where only a single conclusion can be drawn from the facts.

FACTS:

Appellant’s estranged husband took their eight-year-old daughter on a solo airplane flight in Lawrence County and crashed the plane into his mother-in-law's house resulting in his and his daughter’s deaths. Appellee, the NTSB (Aviation Board), reported that the father's suicide was the probable cause of the crash. Appellant sued the Aviation Board for damages due to their alleged negligence. The father circumvented his instructor's rules, and told appellant she would never see the child again. The trial court ruled that the Appellees' actions were not the proximate cause of the child's death. The Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.

ISSUE:

Were appellee’s actions the proximate cause of the death of appellant’s daughter?

ANSWER:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The undisputed designated evidence in this case established that Eric should have taken Emily to school on March 5, 2007. Instead, he took Emily to the airport, went alone into the airport building to retrieve the keys, refused assistance from the airport employee, put Emily in the airplane, and commenced a flight lasting approximately one and one-half hours.  We conclude that Eric's intentional criminal actions triggered the intervening, superseding cause doctrine and broke the causal chain between the Aviation Board's alleged negligence and Emily's death. None of the actions or inaction of any of the appellees could be considered a proximate cause of Emily's death as a matter of law. 

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