Submitted: September 26, 2019
from United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Missouri - Hannibal
KELLY, MELLOY, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.
case presents a classic proximate-cause problem. Is a driver
who causes an accident on a highway liable for a second one
occurring in the traffic backup that follows? Applying
Missouri law, we conclude that the answer is no based on the
time and distance separating the two accidents, so we affirm
the district court'sgrant of summary judgment to the driver.
driver in question is Roy Brice, who crashed his
employer's truck into the rear of another vehicle. The
accident caused a severe backup of traffic half-a-mile long
across a stretch of Interstate 70 in Montgomery County,
Missouri. Between eight and sixteen minutes after the
accident, Kelly Simler noticed the stoppage ahead and brought
her car to a stop at the back of the line. Kim Ross, who was
exceeding the speed limit at the time, did not and struck the
rear of Simler's vehicle with his cargo van. Simler, who
suffered permanent injuries from the impact, seeks to hold
Brice (and his employer) responsible for setting this chain
of events in motion.
legal question is whether proximate cause stretches this far.
Or is Ross's negligence a superseding cause that
"interrupt[ed] the chain of events" set in motion
by the first accident? Metzger v. Schermesser, 687
S.W.2d 671, 673 (Mo.Ct.App. 1985) (citation omitted). The
answer under Missouri law depends on whether Ross's
careless driving was a "foreseeable consequence of
[Brice's] original act of negligence."
E.g., Robinson v. Mo. State Highway &
Transp. Comm'n, 24 S.W.3d 67, 80 (Mo.Ct.App. 2000)
(per curiam) (citation omitted); Restatement (Second) of
Torts § 442A (Am. Law Inst. 1965). If it was, then Brice
can be held liable under a theory of "concurrent or
successive" negligence. Robinson, 24 S.W.3d at
80 (citation omitted). If not, then Ross's negligence
"sever[ed] the connection between [Brice's] conduct
and [Simler's] injury as a matter of law."
Id. (citation omitted).
negligent act fell into the latter category. Brice
"ha[d] the right to some extent to assume that other
motorists" would adjust to road conditions and
"exercise proper care." Branstetter v.
Gerdeman, 274 S.W.2d 240, 246 (Mo. 1955). For example,
when a utility company blocked one lane of a two-lane road,
forcing drivers to use a lane usually reserved for oncoming
traffic, it was not foreseeable that a driver would continue
to use the wrong lane after passing the obstruction. Buck
v. Union Elec. Co., 887 S.W.2d 430, 435 (Mo.Ct.App.
1994). When a driver caused an accident by failing to switch
into the correct lane, the court concluded that this
independently negligent act was a superseding cause that
relieved the utility company of liability for damages.
Id. at 435-36.
analysis is different, however, if the initial act increases
the likelihood that others will act negligently. In Boggs
ex rel. Boggs v. Lay, for instance, a food-processing
plant required its trucks to line up along a residential
street. 164 S.W.3d 4, 11-12 (Mo.Ct.App. 2005). When the
lined-up trucks prevented a boy on a bike from seeing
"up and down the street" from his driveway, he
pedaled out before noticing that another truck was
approaching from the wrong side of the road. The truck
crashed into his bike, causing him to suffer serious and
permanent injuries. Id. at 13, 19. The court held
that the plant's policy was the proximate cause of the
accident, even if the truck driver was negligent too, because
it had "set in motion the chain of circumstances leading
to" the boy's injuries. Id. at 19. Both the
need for the truck to drive on the wrong side of the road and
the boy's obstructed view were the "foreseeable and
natural" consequences of requiring trucks to line up
closely together along a residential street. Id.
proximate-cause perspective, this case is more like
Buck than Boggs. The backup along the
interstate did not lead Ross to drive too fast or limit his
ability to see the traffic ahead. See Boggs, 164
S.W.3d at 19. Nor was it foreseeable that another accident
would occur under these circumstances-eight-or-more minutes
later in a spot nearly half a mile back-when every driver
before Ross had managed to stop. See Baumann v.
Zhukov, 802 F.3d 950, 952 (8th Cir. 2015) (reaching the
same conclusion under Nebraska law when the crashes occurred
forty minutes apart and the backup was nearly one-mile long);
see also Buck, 887 S.W.2d at 434 ("It is not
negligence to fail to anticipate that another will be
negligent . . . ."). On these facts, the causal chain
stops with Ross, not Brice.
accordingly affirm the judgment of the district court.
The Honorable E. Richard Webber, United
States District Judge for the Eastern District of