Injury To Public Employee While Attempting
To Repair Traffic Light Damaged By
Truck Driver Was Not Reasonably Foreseeable
Macie v. Helms, No. 2007-792 (September 21, 2007)
Facts: The defendant struck and damaged a traffic light while operating a tractor trailer in the course of his employment. The plaintiff, an electrician employed by the City of Lebanon, was dispatched on an emergency basis to repair the light. While attempting to remove the 50-60 pound light from the pole, the plaintiff sustained injuries to his shoulder. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the defendant truck driver and his employer seeking compensation for his injuries.
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, ruling that the plaintiff’s injuries were not reasonably foreseeable. The plaintiff appealed.
In order to prevail on a negligence claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendants owed him a duty, that they breached this duty, and that the breach proximately caused the injuries. The scope of the duty imposed on the defendants is limited to risks that are reasonably foreseeable. Whether a duty is owed by the defendants to the plaintiff is a question of law.
Relying on well-established concepts of duty and foreseeability derived from Chief Justice Cardozo’s opinion in Palsgraf (1928), the Court concluded that although the defendants owed a duty to “certain persons” to operate the tractor-trailer in a safe manner, there was no such duty owed to this particular plaintiff. The defendants could not reasonably have foreseen that the series of events that followed would take place and would ultimately result in injury to the plaintiff. The imposition of such remote and unexpected liability on defendants is not favored by public policy.
The Court ruled that the mere fact that an emergency or dangerous condition may have existed at the intersection did not create a duty owed to the plaintiff. The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the “rescue doctrine” applied, since the plaintiff was working in the course of his employment and was not acting to “rescue” any person or property from injury.