In order to prevail in a negligence action, a plaintiff must establish the defendant's duty to protect the plaintiff from injury, a failure to discharge that duty, and damages proximately caused by the failure to discharge that duty. The concept of "foreseeability" is a component of both duty and proximate cause, although its meaning is somewhat different in each context.
Appellant parents sought damages from appellees, a car manufacturer and a tire manufacturer, resulting from the injury and wrongful death of their daughter. Their daughter's vehicle experienced tire failure in a remote area and the daughter was subsequently raped and murdered. The district court sustained demurrers filed on behalf of appellees and dismissed the action as to those parties. Appellants appealed, alleging that as the "direct and proximate result" of the negligence of appellees, their daughter's car was rendered unusable, leaving her in a foreseeably dangerous situation, which ultimately led to her murder. Appellants alleged the existence of a legal duty and a breach thereof. The stated supreme court affirmed the district court’s judgment.
Were the criminal assault and murder the "natural and probable" result of the failure of appellees car manufacturers to warn of potential tire failure?
Although the petition alleged sufficient facts to establish that appellee manufacturers negligently placed defective products on the market which caused the decedent to become stranded at night in a remote location, it alleged no facts upon which either appellees would have had a legal duty to anticipate and guard against the criminal acts which were committed at that location by another party. Therefore, the criminal acts constituted an efficient intervening cause which defeated proof of the essential element of proximate cause.