Court of Appeals’ November Session: Arguments of Interest for November 16, 2016

The Court of Appeals’ November Session continues on Wednesday, November 16, 2016. Of the cases on the argument schedule (the Court’s case summaries can be found here), the most interesting is:

No. 201           Hain v Jamison

When a cow is crossing the road, don’t get out of your car to help it along. That is the lesson from Hain, a wrongful death action alleging that the decedent was killed when she was struck by a teenage driver while attempting to help a newborn calf off of the roadway.  Decedent’s husband sued the owner of the car and the farm that owned the calf, claiming that the farm was negligent by allowing the calf to escape and failing to retrieve it after a neighbor told the farm’s owner that the calf was on the side of the road.  Arguing that decedent’s unforeseen acts of getting out of her car to help the calf and the teen’s negligent driving were the proximate causes of the accident, the farm sought summary judgment dismissing the complaint and cross claims against it.

Supreme Court denied the farm’s summary judgment motion, holding that decedent’s conduct was not so unforeseeable that the claims should be dismissed as a matter of law. The Court opined that it was understandable that someone would “try to get the cow out of the road either because it was in their way, because it was in the way of another motorist, because it was injured.”

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department, however, reversed and dismissed all claims against the farm. The Fourth Department held that any negligence on the farm’s part by allowing the calf to escape merely furnished the occasion for the calf to be in the road where the accident occurred, but did not force the decedent to stop her car, get out of the car, or stand in the middle of the road.  Thus, the Court held that the farm should not be liable, as a matter of law, for decedent’s death.  One Justice dissented and would have found a question of fact as to whether decedent’s conduct was so unforeseeable that the case should be dismissed without a trial.  As the dissenter pointed out, the evidence in the summary judgment record was insufficient to determine where the calf was on the road, whether in the travel lane or only on the shoulder, and whether the calf’s presence actually forced decedent to stop, thereby putting her in a position of danger attributable to the farm.

The Appellate Division, Fourth Department’s decision below can be found here.

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