Derdiarian v. Felix Contracting Corp.
51 N.Y.2d 308, 434 N.Y.S.2d 166, 414 N.E.2d 666 (1980)
Felix was installing a gas main, and had subcontracted to
Bayside who required a kettle of boiling enamel. Derdiarian was a Bayside
employee in charge of the kettle. Against Derdiarian's wishes, Felix put
the kettle at the edge of the construction site, near a road. There was
only a small wooden fence stopping people from crashing into the kettle.
Along came Dickens who negligently drove his car through
the fence and into the kettle, spilling it all over Derdiarian.
Derdiarian sued Dickens, Felix, and Consolidated Edison
(the owners of the gas main).
The Trial Court found for Derdiarian. Felix appealed.
Derdiarian argued that Felix had provided an unsafe work
An expert witness testified that the small fence was not
the usual and accepted method for safeguarding workers in a construction
In addition, Felix was in violation of local ordinances
for safety issues.
Felix argued that it was a freak accident brought about
solely by Dickens' negligence and there was no causal link between
Felix's safety violations and the accident.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found that the plaintiff must
generally show that the defendant's negligence was a substantial cause
of the events which produced the injury. However, the plaintiff does not
need to demonstrate that the specific events of the accident were foreseeable.
The Appellate Court found that, where there is an intervening
act, (in this case Dicken's driving), only acts which operate upon
but do not flow from the original negligence reduce liability.
For example. If a car manufacturer makes a faulty trunk
lock, and the trunk pops open and the driver stops to close it, and is
hit by another car, the car manufacture would not be liable for negligence.
(See Ventricelli v. Kinney System Rent a Car, Inc. (383 N.E.2d 1149 (1978))).
In this case though, the Appellate Court thought it was
entirely foreseeable that a drive could crash through the fence,
so even though there was such an intervening act, they are still
Basically, the Appellate Court is saying that Dicken's negligence
was not a superseding cause which interrupted the link between
Felix's negligence and Derdiarian's injuries.
See Sheehan v. City of New York (354 N.E.2d 832 (1976)), which had almost
the opposite ruling.