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Deines v. Atlas Energy Services, LLC.

2021 COA 24. No. 19CA2021.  Negligence—Proximate Cause—Summary Judgment—Intervening Cause.

February 25, 2021

Fernandez-Tapia was driving a truck owned by Atlas Energy Services, LLC (Atlas) or Consolidated Divisions, Inc. (CDI) (collectively, defendants) on I-76 near the town of Hudson. Hudson officials received a report of a hazardous material spill on the highway and closed both lanes. Cars backed up on the highway. Fifteen minutes after the closure, Deines approached the scene and started to slow down. As he crested a slight incline, he saw a line of cars stopped in front of him and applied his brakes. Ten seconds later, Campa-Borrego crashed into the back of Deines’s pickup truck causing Deines catastrophic injuries.

Deines sued, alleging that defendants’ negligence, which resulted in the oil spill, was a cause of his injuries. Defendants moved for summary judgment on grounds that Campa-Borrego’s negligence was an unforeseeable intervening cause that broke the chain of causation arising from the original negligent conduct. The district court granted summary judgment and dismissed the case.

On appeal, Deines argued that the district court erred in entering summary judgment because whether Campa-Borrego’s negligence constituted an independent intervening cause is a fact question for the jury. It is generally the juror’s job to determine the foreseeability of an intervening act based on the facts and circumstances of the case. But if every rational juror would have to find that the intervening act was fully independent and unforeseeable, the question is decided as a matter of law. Here, the question for proximate cause purposes is whether defendants should have reasonably foreseen that if they caused an oil spill on a highway at night, an accident relatively close in time and place to the spill might result. Reasonable people could differ as to whether the intervening act was foreseeable. Therefore, the proximate cause question cannot be decided as a matter of law, and the district court erred.

The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to reinstate the claim.

Official Colorado Court of Appeals proceedings can be found at the Colorado Court of Appeals website.

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