Komlodi Part 5: Foreseeability and Intervening/Superseding Causes

By Michael Zerres

Further Analysis of Scalfidi Charge in Komlodi v. Picciano, WL 2050758 (N.J. 2014)
See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

The Trial Court correctly elected to charge the jury on both intervening/superseding causation and general foreseeability. The intervening/superseding causation charge attempts to focus the jury’s attention on the different arguments of the parties. Thus, while a patient’s deliberate act is foreseeable, and not a superseding cause, that does not preclude the need to instruct the jury on intervening/superseding causes.

The concepts of foreseeability and intervening/superseding causation are related and juries need to be educated on both. Foreseeability is a constituent part of proximate cause and an act is foreseeable when a reasonably prudent, similarly situated person would anticipate a risk that his/her negligent conduct would cause injury or harm to another.

The intervening/superseding charge also complements the general charge on proximate cause. An intervening or superseding act is one that breaks the “chain of causation” linking a defendant’s wrongful act and an injury or harm suffered by a plaintiff. A plaintiff’s actions might break the chain of causation if his/her act was volitional and not attributable to the disorder or condition for which treatment is sought. Here, the jury was asked whether the patient’s history of addiction made her oral ingestion of the Duragesic patch foreseeable, or, if it was so remote or abnormal so as to not be foreseeable.

The Trial Court correctly charged the jury on intervening/superseding causation, but failed to mold its instructions to the facts of the case. Juries must know how the legal instructions are to be applied to the complex factual scenarios before them and the instructions must be clear and understandable.

Here the Court’s jury charge failed to provide the triers of fact the guidance that it needed.

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