DOUGLAS W. HOWARD, Plaintiff and Appellee,
PATRICK C. BENNETT, Personal Representative of the Estate of RAYMOND EARL BENNETT, Deceased, Defendant and Appellant.
FEBRUARY 15, 2017
FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE SEVENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
PENNINGTON COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE HEIDI LINNGREN
BRADSKY of Bradsky, Bradsky & Bradsky, P.C. Rapid City,
South Dakota Attorneys for plaintiff and appellee.
HEATHER M. LAMMERS BOGARD Costello, Porter, Hill,
Heisterkamp, Bushnell & Carpenter, LLP Rapid City, South
Dakota Attorneys for defendant and appellant.
Raymond Bennett failed to negotiate a curve on a highway,
drove his motorcycle off the road, and was killed. The
Highway Patrol arrived and secured the scene. Approximately
an hour and a half later, Douglas Howard rounded the same
curve and encountered a vehicle that had come to a complete
stop in his lane of travel. Howard applied his brakes, lost
control of his motorcycle, and sustained injuries. He later
sued Bennett's estate (the Estate), contending that
Bennett's negligence in the first accident created a
dangerous condition that caused Howard's injuries in the
second accident. The Estate moved for summary judgment,
contending that Bennett's negligence was not the cause of
the second accident. The Estate alleged that the Highway
Patrol's scene management was a superseding cause that
relieved Bennett of liability. The circuit court denied the
motion. We granted the Estate's petition for a
discretionary appeal and now reverse.
and Procedural History
Because this appeal involves summary judgment, we restate the
facts in a light most favorable to Howard, the nonmoving
party. See Zerfas v. AMCO Ins. Co., 2015 S.D. 99,
¶ 8, 873 N.W.2d 65');">873 N.W.2d 65, 69. On August 5, 2012, during the
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Bennett was on his motorcycle
traveling east on Highway 44 towards Rapid City. Highway 44
has several curves in that area and a posted speed limit of
fifty miles per hour. At approximately 3:00 p.m., Bennett,
who was intoxicated, entered a curve at a high rate of speed
and drove into the ditch. He was killed in the accident.
Neither the motorcycle nor any debris obstructed the highway.
Several Highway Patrol troopers arrived over the next eight
minutes to manage the scene and investigate the accident. At
4:00 p.m., Trooper Robert Rybak arrived to perform accident
reconstruction. By that time, Bennett's body had been
removed, his motorcycle remained at the scene but completely
off the highway, and traffic was flowing in both directions.
A highway patrol trooper was stationed on a curve east of the
scene to alert westbound motorists of the accident, but no
trooper was stationed west of the scene.
At 4:39 p.m., Howard was west of the scene on his motorcycle
traveling east towards Rapid City. He did not see any warning
or indication that there was an accident ahead. After
rounding the same curve, which Howard described as a
"blind corner, " Howard encountered a motorhome
that was stopped in his lane of travel. Because there was a
vehicle approaching in the oncoming lane, Howard forcefully
applied his brakes to avoid colliding with the motorhome.
However, he lost control of his motorcycle and was injured.
Howard sued Bennett's estate, alleging that Bennett's
negligence in his own accident created a dangerous condition
that proximately caused Howard's injuries in the
subsequent accident. The Estate moved for summary judgment.
Although the Estate conceded that Bennett was negligent in
causing his own accident, it argued that Bennett's
negligence was not a proximate cause of Howard's
injuries. The Estate specifically contended that Bennett was
relieved of liability because the Highway Patrol's
failure to warn eastbound traffic of the accident was a
superseding cause. The circuit court denied the motion,
ruling that there were issues of disputed fact for a jury to
decide whether Bennett's negligence was a proximate cause
of Howard's accident. We granted the Estate's
petition for a discretionary appeal.
The Estate argues that Bennett cannot be liable because
Howard's injuries were caused by the negligence of the
Highway Patrol troopers who were in charge of securing and
managing the accident scene. More specifically, the Estate
contends that the troopers' failure to warn eastbound
traffic of the accident site was a superseding cause that
relieved Bennett of any liability and that Bennett's
negligence merely furnished a condition that led to
Howard's injuries. Howard argues that the circuit court
properly denied summary judgment because there is a dispute
whether Bennett's negligence, in combination with the
Highway Patrol's alleged negligence, was a proximate
cause of Howard's injuries, and that such a dispute must
be resolved by a jury.
Although Bennett argues that the issue in this case involves
the question of duty, the parties' contentions implicate
the causation element of negligence law. More
specifically, the parties' contentions relate to
proximate cause and superseding cause, which are interrelated
concepts. "Proximate cause is defined as 'a cause
that produces a result in a natural and probable sequence and
without which the result would not have occurred. Such cause
need not be the only cause of a result. It may act in
combination with other causes to produce a result.'"
Hamilton v. Sommers,2014 S.D. 76, ¶ 39, 855
N.W.2d 855, 867 (quoting Peterson v. Issenhuth, 2014
S.D. 1, ¶ 17, 842 N.W.2d 351, 355-56). However,
"[w]hen the natural and continuous sequence of causal
connection between the negligent conduct and the injury is
interrupted by a new and independent cause, which itself
produces the injury, that intervening cause operates to
relieve the original wrongdoer of liability." Braun
v. New Hope Twp.,2002 S.D. 67, ¶ 10, 646 N.W.2d
737, 740 (emphasis ...