Questions of negligence, due care, and proximate cause are ordinarily questions of fact for a jury to decide. The right of trial by jury is recognized in the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and both the state and federal Constitutions. It is a fundamental right in our democratic judicial system. Questions which are composed of such qualities sufficient to cause reasonable men to arrive at different results should never be determined as matters of law. The debatable quality of issues such as negligence and proximate cause, the fact that fair-minded men might reach different conclusions, emphasize the appropriateness and necessity of leaving such questions to a fact-finding body. The jury is the tribunal under this legal system to decide that type of issue. To withdraw such questions from the jury is to usurp its function.
Causation/Intervening Acts: Wrongful acts of independent third persons, not actually intended by the defendant, are not regarded by the law as natural consequences of his wrong, and he is not bound to anticipate the general probability of such acts, anymore than a particular act by this or that individual. The rule applies a fortiori to criminal acts. The intervention of a criminal act, however, does not necessarily interrupt the relation of cause and effect between negligence and an injury. If at the time of the negligence, the criminal act might reasonably be foreseen, the causal chain is not broken by the intervention of such act.
One of the defendant cab company's cabbies left his vehicle without first securing it. As a thief absconded with the cab, he collided with the plaintiff motorist's vehicle and damaged it. Plaintiff filed an action against defendant. The plaintiff charged that defendant, by its servant, negligently permitted its taxicab to remain unattended on a Chicago street without first stopping the engine or locking the ignition or removing the key, contrary to a section of said act. The company's motion to dismiss alleging plaintiff motorist's failure to state a claim was denied. The Appellate Court here affirmed the trial court's judgment fixing liability on the defendant for violation of a section of the Uniform Traffic Act.
Does a violation of the Uniform Traffic Act constitute negligence if the violation results in an unattended car being stolen and subsequently crashing into a third party?
The court held that: (1) Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 95 1/2, para. 189 (1953), which required securing the vehicle, was a safety measure; (2) although violation of it was prima facie evidence of negligence, the motorist still had to show that the property damage which he suffered had a direct and proximate connection with the statutory breach before liability would attach; (3) whether the thief's conduct might reasonably be foreseen, and thereby preserve the chain of proximate cause, was an issue uniquely suited to a jury's determination; (4) to withdraw such questions from the jury and decide them as a matter of law was to usurp the jury's function; and (5) consequently, the trial court's judgment would not be disturbed.