Bacon v. Celeste

Decision Date09 July 1968
Citation292 N.Y.S.2d 54,30 A.D.2d 324
PartiesEvelyn BACON, Plaintiff-Respondent, v. Vincent R. CELESTE, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtNew York Supreme Court — Appellate Division

Julius S. Christensen, New York City, of counsel (Christensen & Caliendo, New York City attorneys), for appellant.

Robert Conason, New York City, of counsel (Herman Schmertz, New York City, with him on the brief; David Lieberman, New York City, attorney), for respondent.


EAGER, Justice:

The defendant appeals from a judgment entered upon a jury verdict for plaintiff in a personal injury action. The plaintiff, a pedestrian, was struck by defendant's automobile at a street intersection. We conclude that the charge of the court on the question of contributory negligence, in response to the request of the jury for furthe instructions, was so unclear as to preclude a proper consideration of the issue by the jury.

A crucial issue in the case was whether or not plaintiff had exercised proper care in crossing the street, including, her observations, if any, as to traffic. During its deliberations, the jury returned to the courtroom and asked for further instructions 'as to the law regarding contributory negligence'. A juror stated: 'I think the confusion lies in whether there is a degree of contributory negligence or whether it is an absolute constant; in other words, if it is ascertained one or the other party, for example, the plaintiff, contributed to a degree, whether that is tantamount to contributory negligence and that covers the fact.' The court replied, inter alia, that if 'the plaintiff substantially contributed to the happening of the accident, then, of course, the plaintiff is not entitled to recover.' Thereupon, defendant's counsel asked the court to charge the jury that 'if they find the plaintiff negligent, even in the slightest degree in contributing to the happening of this accident, their verdict must then be in favor of the defendant.' The court, however, expressly refused to charge as requested and instead proceeded to give 'another further clarification', stating to the jury that '(n)egligence of the slightest of the defendant will be sufficient to impose liability on the defendant provided his negligence is a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff's injury. Negligence, however slight of the plaintiff, will be sufficient to bar recovery by her provided her negligence is a substantial factor in causing her injury.' Defendant's counsel excepted on the basis that the jury 'may get the idea that detracts from the slightness. * * * You modified it by saying 'substantial."

The final instructions to the jury with emphasis on the word 'substantial' could permit it to conclude that the plaintiff's negligence would defeat her right to recovery only if it were substantial in degree. This is contrary to the settled law in New York that the contributory negligence of plaintiff and the alleged negligence of the defendant shall not be weighed and that the consequences of the concurring acts of negligence shall not be apportioned; if the plaintiff's negligence in any degree contributes to cause the accident, that is sufficient to bar a recovery. (See McKay v. Syracuse R.T. Ry. Co., 208 N.Y. 359, 363, 101 N.E. 885, 886; Fitzpatrick v. International Ry. Co., 252 N.Y. 127, 134, 169 N.E. 112, 115; Jean v. Algonquin Hotel Co., 258 App.Div. 127, 15 N.Y.S.2d 759.

Generally, the term 'substantial factor' may be used in a charge in a negligence case only in relation to a proper and adequate discussion of the issue of causal relation or proximate cause. In this connection, the term 'substantial' is used to denote the fact that negligence, in order to support a recovery, should have 'such an effect in producing the harm as to lead reasonable men to regard it as a cause'. (Restatement of Law, Torts, vol. 2, § 431; see, also P.J.I. 2:35, p. 128; Klein v. Herlim Realty Corp., 184 Misc. 852, 54 N.Y.S.2d 144, aff. 269 App.Div. 934, 58 N.Y.S.2d 344; Waterman v. State of New York, 19 A.D.2d 264, 241 N.Y.S.2d 314, affd. sub. nom. Williams v. State of New York, 14 N.Y.2d 793, 251 N.Y.S.2d 30, 200 N.E.2d 212.) Thus it may be technically correct to say that contributory negligence is not considered as a proximate cause of a plaintiff's injury unless it was a 'substantial factor' in producing the injury, but it is also true that any negligence on the part of a plaintiff which contributes to cause the injury, precludes a recovery by plaintiff whether or not such negligence is 'substantial' in degree. The subtleties involved in such a statement, without elaboration, are, however, too refined to be grasped by the ordinary jury.

Although a charge may be substantially correct as stating the applicable law, it is important that it be reduced to terms likely to be understood by the jury. (See Morris Cohon & Co. v. Penn. Coal & Coke Corp., 10 A.D.2d 667, 197 N.Y.S.2d 125.) Where, as here, a charge is so inadequate or of so confusing a character as to preclude fair...

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23 cases
  • Harry M., Matter of
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • October 31, 1983
    ...Nelson v. Underwood, 244 Ark. 1065, 1067, 429 S.W.2d 102; Summers v. Weyer, 141 Ind.App. 176, 179, 226 N.E.2d 904; cf.Bacon v. Celeste, 30 A.D.2d 324, 326, 292 N.Y.S.2d 54; People v. Summer, 64 A.D.2d 658, 659, 407 N.Y.S.2d 53). Upon examination of the charge in its entirety, we believe tha......
  • Rudnik v. Norwich Pharmacal Co.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • June 9, 1970
    ...a fair consideration by a jury and require the reversal of a judgment and a new trial in the interests of justice. Bacon v. Celeste, 30 A.D.2d 324, 292 N.Y.S.2d 541; Molnar v. Slattery Contracting Co., 8 A.D.2d 95, 100, 185 N.Y.S.2d 449, Accordingly, although I take a dim view of the plaint......
  • Bankhaus Hermann Lampe KG v. MERCANTILE-SAFE DEP.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • January 11, 1979
    ...will bar recovery. Fitzpatrick v. International Railway Co., 252 N.Y. 127, 134, 169 N.E. 112 (1929). See also Bacon v. Celeste, 30 A.D.2d 324, 325, 292 N.Y.S.2d 54 (1st Dep't 1968). The proof of freedom from contributory negligence is not only plaintiff's burden, but it is also "a substanti......
  • Ortiz v. Kinoshita & Co.
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • July 11, 1968
    ...they elude perception or understanding. In this connection, on the issue of proximate cause, we held, in bacon v. Celeste, 30 A.D.2d 324, 325, 326, 292 N.Y.S.2d 54, 56 (Eager, J.) as 'The term 'substantial factor' may be used in a charge in a negligence case only in relation to a proper and......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • 21.5 - 1. Scope Of Charge
    • United States
    • New York State Bar Association Preparing for & Trying the Civil Lawsuit (NY) Chapter Twenty-one Jury Instructions
    • Invalid date
    ...(1st Dep’t 1979); Biener v. New York, 47 A.D.2d 520, 362 N.Y.S.2d 563 (2d Dep’t 1975).[3284] . Lopato, 73 A.D.2d 565; Bacon v. Celeste, 30 A.D.2d 324, 292 N.Y.S.2d 54 (1st Dep’t 1968); Ortiz v. Kinoshita & Co., 30 A.D.2d 334, 292 N.Y.S.2d 48 (1st Dep’t 1968).[3285] . Piotrowski v. McGuire M......

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