One of the elements that individuals filing a Maryland negligence claim have to prove is causation. But even if a court finds a defendant’s acts or omissions were the cause-in-fact of the plaintiff’s injuries, the court will also consider whether the defendant’s negligent actions are a legally cognizable cause—that is, whether the defendant should be held liable under the circumstances. This consideration generally centers on whether the plaintiff’s injuries were within the harm that the defendant should have anticipated or expected due to the defendant’s negligent actions. Thus, a defendant may not be liable if the plaintiff’s injuries resulted only because of very unusual and unexpected circumstances. In considering whether a defendant may be liable for a plaintiff’s injuries, the court will consider any intervening negligent acts or omissions in the foreseeability analysis. If an intervening negligent action or omission is found to be a superseding cause, the defendant will not be held liable. Intervening acts may include the criminal acts of a third party after the defendant’s original act of negligence, as in the following case.
In a recent decision issued by a state supreme court, the court considered a case in which an employee at an Avis rental company stole an SUV from the rental lot where he worked after it had closed for the day. He drove the SUV around for hours in hopes of selling the vehicle. Police officers saw him driving erratically and approached him, and the driver sped off in an attempt to escape. As he was trying to escape, the driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a wall where two people were sitting, severely injuring them. The two individuals sued the driver and others, including Avis rental car company, alleging negligence and vicarious liability. The juries in both cases found in favor of the plaintiffs.
However, the Supreme Court of George found that the plaintiffs could not recover because the driver’s intervening criminal conduct severed the chain of events for causation. The court held that the driver’s criminal acts were the intervening and independent wrongful act of a third person. The court decided that even if Avis was negligent in allowing the employee to gain access to a car and steal it after hours, the injuries to the plaintiffs were not a probable or natural consequence that could have been reasonably foreseen by the defendants. No evidence showed that the defendants could have reasonably foreseen that the driver would lead police on a high-speed chase and crash into the plaintiffs.