Steinhauser v. Hertz Corp.

421 F.2d 1169 (2d Cir. 1970)



The probability of later death from existing causes for which a defendant was not responsible would probably be an important element in fixing damages, but it is not a defense. If a defendant succeeds in establishing that the plaintiff's pre-existing condition was bound to worsen, an appropriate discount should be made for the damages that would have been suffered even in the absence of the defendant's negligence.


Plaintiffs, passenger and parent, filed a personal injury action against defendant car rental agency alleging that a car accident caused plaintiff passenger to suffer from schizophrenia. Plaintiffs presented evidence from an expert that provided the car accident was the precipitating cause of plaintiff's serious mental illness. Following a jury verdict, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of defendant.


Is the defendant liable for causing or aggravating plaintiff's condition?




The court held that plaintiffs were improperly deprived of a fair opportunity to have the jury consider the expert testimony where the court instructed the jury, in effect, that plaintiffs could only recover it an accident alone produced plaintiff's schizophrenia. The court found that the fact plaintiff had latent psychotic tendencies prior to the accident would not defeat recovery if the accident was a precipitating case of schizophrenia. The court noted that the pre-existing condition could have a significant bearing on the amount of damages awarded. The court held plaintiffs did not waive their objections to the jury instruction where plaintiffs' counsel had made his position abundantly clear to the trial judge and it was plain that further efforts would be unavailing.

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