A crash between a four-door sedan and a van sent four individuals to various hospitals early on February 7, the Chicago Tribune reports. The sedan contained only the driver, a 52-year-old man. The van contained three people: the driver, who was reportedly being pursued by her boyfriend, and two passengers. There was an alleged domestic dispute between the driver and her boyfriend, immediately preceding the pursuit that ended with the accident. The van reportedly ran a red light before colliding with the sedan. The van continued to then collide with two parked cars before coming to a stop. According to the Chicago police, there are charges pending.
In any car accident, there is generally one driver who is “at fault,” which is a legal term used to describe someone who is more than 50 percent responsible for the crash. That driver must pay for the injuries suffered as a result of the accident. What if though, as what may have happened in the above incident, the driver was fleeing from someone that she reasonably believed was going to harm her? In cases like that, two doctrines must be considered when pursuing a personal injury claim: private necessity and intervening cause.
In tort law, there is a defense called necessity. If someone interferes with another’s property in an unlawful way, yet in order to avoid an even greater harm to the public, she will not be liable for the damage. This is called public necessity, and it is an absolute defense. The classic example is someone burning down a house to prevent the spread of a fire, that otherwise would have destroyed an entire city block.
There is another kind of necessity, called private necessity. If one interferes with another’s property in an unlawful way, in order to avoid greater harm to oneself, she will be held liable only for the damage to the property, and not for punitive or other kinds of damages.
In the case above, the defense of private necessity might be available, but it would not be terribly helpful. Depending on the facts, as determined by the judge and jury, the driver of the van may still be liable for all damage to the car, and for the injuries suffered by the other driver.
One of the elements of a negligence case is cause in fact. If one’s actions directly caused the injuries complained of by the plaintiff, that element of cause is established. However, this will not be the case if there has been an intervening cause. An intervening cause is an action by another party that more directly caused the injury to the plaintiff than the action by the defendant.
If a case were to be brought from the above incident, the driver could argue that she was merely running away from her boyfriend, and that her boyfriend caused the accident. However, it is possible that, by running the red light, the driver caused the accident.
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