Sheehan v. City of New York
40 N.Y. 496, 387 N.Y.S.2d 95, 354 N.E.2d 832 (1976)

  • Sheehan was a bus driver. He stopped at an intersection to let off some passengers, but didn’t pull over to the curb. A sanitation truck came by and crashed into the bus because of a brake failure.
    • It was a traffic violation for the bus to not pull over to the curb to let out passengers.
  • One of the bus passengers, Novak, was injured and sued.
  • The Trial Court found for Novak against the City, as the owner of the sanitation truck, and the Transit Authority, as owner of the bus.
  • The Trial judge set aside the verdict against the Transit Authority. Sheehan appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reinstated the verdict. The Transit Authority appealed.
  • The New York Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and set aside the verdict against the Transit Authority.
    • The New York Supreme Court felt that if the bus had been simply waiting at the stoplight, or caught in traffic, or making a turn, it would have been in exactly the same position and would have still been hit by the sanitation truck. Therefore, no act on the bus’s part caused the sanitation truck to be anyplace other than where it was.
      • Therefore, as a matter of law, the sanitation truck was the sole proximate cause of the accident.
      • The position of the bus merely furnished the condition for the occurrence, rather than being one of its causes.
    • The Court also felt that even if the bus’s actions represented a proximate cause, the failure of the sanitation truck’s brakes would be considered an independent, supervening cause.
  • See Derdiarian v. Felix Contracting Corp. (414 N.E.2d 666 (1980)), which had almost the opposite ruling.