Preferred Jury Verdict: Negligent But Not Substantial Cause (NY)
In Bongiovanni v. Eckhardt,the Appellate Division, Second Department addressed the issue of when a defendant is negligent but not the proximate cause of the accident.
The case involved a personal injury action where the plaintiff moved pursuant to CPLR 4404(a) to set aside a verdict in favor of defendant on the issue of liability. The plaintiff, tenant of the defendant, allegedly was injured when she slipped and fell on unstable paver stones near the laundry room in the defendant’s property. During a jury trial, plaintiff testified that she was aware of the unstable paver stones, and that there was an alternate route to the laundry room. Additionally, defendant testified that she had instructed plaintiff to stay away from the area prior to her injury.
The jury found that although the defendant had been negligent, that such negligence was not a substantial factor in causing the injury at issue. The plaintiff thereafter moved to set aside the verdict, which was denied by the Supreme Court. The Appellate Division, while affirming the Supreme Court’s decision stated, “Where, as here, there is a reasonable view of the evidence under which it is not logically impossible to reconcile a finding of negligence but no proximate cause, it will be presumed that, in returning such a verdict, the jury adopted that view.”
This decision serves as a reminder that just because you are negligent, does not mean that you should be held responsible for one’s injury. It is also frequently the most favorable outcome for a defendant at trial because of the strong likelihood of being upheld by an appellate court.
Thanks to Corey Morgenstern for his contribution to this post. Please email Georgia Coats with any questions.