In order to establish a prima facie case of negligence, a plaintiff must show that defendants' negligence was the substantial cause of the events that produced the injury. However, the concept of proximate cause is an elusive one, which cannot be precisely defined because it stems from policy considerations that serve to place manageable limits upon the liability that flows from negligent conduct. Moreover, where an intentional or criminal act of a third person intervenes between a defendant's conduct and a plaintiff's injury, liability will turn upon whether the intervening act is a normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created by the defendant's negligence.
Plaintiff was injured during a soccer game after she was attacked by an unidentified member of the opposing team. Spectators allegedly ran onto the playing field, and some of those individuals jumped on top of plaintiff. Plaintiff commenced an action for personal injuries alleging that defendants, league and association, had negligently failed to provide a properly trained referee to officiate at the game, and failed to maintain a safe playing environment for participants in the league-sponsored game. Defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. The trial court denied defendants' motion. On appeal, the appellate court reversed and dismissed plaintiff's action.
Was the alleged negligence of defendants the proximate or substantial cause of plaintiff’s injuries?
Defendants' alleged negligence was not the proximate cause of plaintiff's injuries. Moreover, because an intentional or criminal act of a third person intervened between defendants' conduct and plaintiff’s injuries, liability turned upon whether the intervening act was a normal or foreseeable consequence of the situation created by defendants' negligence, and it was not. There was no prior acrimony between plaintiff’s team and the opposing team, and the attack upon him occurred suddenly and without warning. Under those circumstances, plaintiff's injuries were not the foreseeable consequence of defendants' alleged failure to provide adequate security or a properly trained referee.