Torts I

Cohen v. Petty

Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, 1933

Facts:

Defendant fainted while driving his car and subsequently crashed his car while plaintiff was a passenger therein. Passenger claimed that he was driving recklessly. Defendant had not eaten lunch but had no prior history of fainting.

Procedural History:

Trial judge directed a verdict in favor of the defendant.

Issues:

  • Is one liable for damages causes due to illness?

  • Bell's: Was defendant at fault when he suddenly became ill, fainted, and ran his car off the road?

Rule:

If the illness was not foreseeable, the defendant is not liable. Plaintiff must show actionable negligence.

Reasoning:

Defendant did not have a history of fainting, and could not have known that he would faint while driving.

Holding:

  • Plaintiff did not show that illness was foreseeable. Judgment affirmed.

  • Bell's: Defendant was not at fault when he suddenly became ill, fainted, and ran his car off the road.

Takeaways:

  • Unforeseeable illness is not actionable negligence.

  • Bell's: To be liable for an action, it has to be a volitional act.

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