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 site.
      • An expert witness testified that the small fence was not the usual and accepted method for safeguarding workers in a construction zone.
      • 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 liable.
    • 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.