The test for determining whether particular conduct is a proximate cause of an injury is whether it is "a substantial factor in producing" the result. Causes traced to the end which become of trivial consequence, mere incidents of the operating cause, may be, in a sense, factors, but are so insignificant that the law cannot fasten responsibility upon one who may set them in motion. They are not substantial factors as operative causes. To be factors of this degree they must continue down to the moment of the damage, or, at least, down to the setting in motion of the final active injurious force which immediately produces or precedes the damage. It is not every negligent act or omission of a plaintiff which, though it be causally connected with the injuries, defeats a recovery, and a charge which gives that effect to "any" negligence of a plaintiff is erroneous.
The injured party, struck by one of the trustees' trains, lay unconscious on adjacent tracks when their other train struck him. The jury returned a verdict for the defendant but the trial court set this aside aside because of erroneous jury instructions on proximate cause and contributory negligence. The trial court ruled that even though the jury found that the negligence of the plaintiff was a contributing cause of the first accident, whether that negligence was such as would bar him from a recovery for the injuries suffered when he was run over by the second train was a question of fact for their determination; and that they might have found that this negligence was not a proximate cause of his being run. The defendant insisted that the charge as given was correct and that ithe only way in which the plaintiff could recover in view of his negligence as regards the first accident would be under the doctrine of last clear chance.
Does the negligence of an injured party absolutely bar him from recovery?
The court found no error in the trial court's judgment, ruling that the trial court should not have charged the jury on the last clear chance doctrine. The complaint did not raise it, and while a complaint did not have to refer to the doctrine, it had to allege facts, which afforded a basis for a conclusion of liability, based on it and that fairly gave notice that it was invoked. The court also held that not every negligent act or omission of the injured party, although it was casually connected to his injuries, barred recovery, and a charge, which gave that effect to any negligence of plaintiff was erroneous. Evidence showed that while the injured party was negligent in going onto the tracks, that negligence was remote and not a proximate cause of his injuries by the second train.