Pipher v. Parsell

930 A.2d 890 (Del. 2007)



In order to establish a negligence claim, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; the defendant breached that duty; and the defendant's breach was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury.


As the parties were traveling at 55 miles per hour in the driver's truck, the second passenger unexpectedly grabbed the steering wheel causing the truck to veer off onto the shoulder of the road. Approximately 30 seconds later, the second passenger again yanked the steering wheel, causing the truck to leave the roadway, slide down an embankment, and strike a tree. The first passenger was injured as a result of the collision. At trial, the driver acknowledged that he could have taken different steps to try to prevent the second passenger from grabbing the steering wheel a second time. The appellate court found that the driver's recognition of how serious the second passenger's conduct was, showed that he was aware that he had someone in his car who had engaged in dangerous behavior. The issue of the driver's alleged breach of duty to the first passenger, the forseeability of the second passenger's repeat conduct, and the proximate cause of the first passenger's injuries were all factual determinations that should have been submitted to the jury. Therefore, the trial court erred in granting a judgment as a matter of law to the driver.


Did the driver act negligently?




In general, where the actions of a passenger that cause an accident are not foreseeable, there is no negligence attributable to the driver. But, when actions of a passenger that interfere with the driver's safe operation of the motor vehicle are foreseeable, the failure to prevent such conduct may be a breach of the driver's duty to either other passengers or to the public. Under the circumstances of this case, a reasonable jury could find that Parsell breached his duty to protect Pipher from Beisel by preventing Beisel from grabbing the steering wheel a second time.The issue of Parsell's alleged breach of duty to Pipher, the forseeability of Beisel's repeat conduct, and the proximate cause of Pipher's injuries were all factual determinations that should have been submitted to the jury. Accordingly, the judgment of the Superior Court, that was entered as a matter of law, is reversed. This matter is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.

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