Torts I, Pages 355–357

Fuller v. Preis

New York Court of Appeals, 1974

Facts:

Defendant struck Dr. Lewis in an automobile accident. Lewis believed himself to be uninjured, but actually suffered head injuries that caused him to suffer from epileptic seizures and allegedly suicidal tendencies. Seven months later, Lewis committed suicide. Plaintiff is the executor of Lewis's estate.

Procedural History:

A jury verdict awarded plaintiff $200,000. The Appellate Division set aside the verdict and judgment for the plaintiff and dismissed the complaint, noting that it would set aside the verdict as contrary to the weight of the credible evidence, even if it did not dismiss the complaint.

Issues:

  • Was plaintiff liable for Lewis's suicide?

  • Was Lewis capable of resisting self-harm?

Plaintiff's Argument:

Lewis committed suicide due to an irresistible impulse to do so, caused by the accident.

Rule:

An act of suicide is generally a superseding cause.

Exception:

Unless it is the product of an "irresistible impulse" caused by traumatic organic brain damage.

Reasoning:

It is up to the jury to decide whether one is capable of resisting their suicide. Which one did, and that should be respected.

Holding:

Lewis committed suicide due to his mental condition caused by plaintiff's action. Plaintiff should be liable. Reversed with costs, and a new trial directed.


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