Court Discusses the Concept of an “Intervening Cause” in Lawsuit Brought Against Gas Company

One of the key elements in any personal injury lawsuit is causation. In order to prove causation, a plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s allegedly negligent actions were the cause of their injuries. While this sounds simple in theory, in reality causation is a contested element in many personal injury cases. A recent case illustrates how a defendant may successfully argue that their actions, even if determined to be negligent, were not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

A Gas Explosion Seriously Injures the Resident

The plaintiff was moving into a new apartment that was owned by a co-worker. Prior to allowing the plaintiff to move in, the homeowner contacted the local gas company and arranged for the gas to be turned on. A technician from the gas company came out to the house, but upon doing so, he discovered that the gas line had a leak in it. The technician turned the gas back off and left a warning card with a 20-year-old girl who was dating the plaintiff’s step-son.

The warning card left by the technician explained that there was a leak in the system and that it needed to be fixed before turning the gas back on. The card also explained that the technician had left the gas off, but the meter was not locked so that a plumber could turn it back on once the leak was fixed. This was in violation of the gas company’s policy, which required that meters on homes with leaking gas systems be locked by the technician when they leave the property.

When the plaintiff returned home, he was given the warning card. Not fully understanding what the card said, the plaintiff arranged for a plumber to come turn on the meter. No repairs to the leaking system were made. After the gas was turned on, the plaintiff went to light an incense to get rid of the “old smell.” This caused an explosion that seriously injured the plaintiff.

The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against the gas company, alleging that the negligent actions of the technician caused his injuries. The trial court determined that the technician’s actions were not the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The plaintiff appealed.

The Case Is Affirmed on Appeal

On appeal, the court upheld the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the gas company. However, the court used slightly different reasoning. The court explained that even if the technician’s failure to lock the meter was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, the plaintiff’s own actions constituted an “intervening cause” that severed that chain of causation. The court determined that no reasonable jury could find that the gas company could reasonably foresee that a resident would turn the gas on after having received the warning card explaining that there was a leak in the system. Thus, the court held that the plaintiff’s lawsuit was properly dismissed.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of accident in the Washington, D.C. area, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers have decades of experience assisting their clients in seeking the compensation they deserve. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation. Calling is free and will not result in any obligation to compensate us for our services unless we can help you recover compensation for your injuries.

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Appellate Court Upholds $21 Million Verdict in Medical Malpractice Case, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, February 2, 2017

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