Jensen v. White Star Lines (c) Anderson Kill & Olick 1998
Defendant's Brief on Defenses to Negligence

 
 
 
 
ESTATE OF HANS PEDER JENSEN
by Executor of the Estate 
Carla Christine Jensen 

Plaintiff, 

v. 

THE WHITE STAR LINE, 

Defendant. 










)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
 
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
 
C.A. No. 12-041412
 
 
DEFENDANT WHITE STAR LINES
MEMORANDUM OF LAW
ON
SUPERSEDING CAUSE, ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK  AND CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE

Plaintiff cannot succeed on her claim because it was not White Star Lines' ("White Star") conduct that caused the death of Hans Peder Jensen. The acts of others passengers, Mr. Jensen himself, or both, caused the death of Mr. Jensen. These acts superseded any alleged negligence on the part of White Star and, thus, relieve White Star of any liability.

Alternatively, Mr. Jensen's own negligence contributed to his death. Under prevailing New York law, any negligence on Mr. Jensen's part prevents Plaintiff from recovering from White Star, even though White Star may have been negligent.

In either case, Plaintiff's claim fails as a matter of law Defendant, The White Star Line must prevail.

I. THE CONDUCT OF FELLOW PASSENGERS, MR. JENSEN HIMSELF, OR BOTH, WAS THE SUPERSEDING CAUSE OF MR. JENSEN'S DEATH

A superseding cause is an unforeseeable act or event that happens after the initial negligent act and breaks the chain of causation between the initial negligent act and the ultimate injury. Deyo v. New York Centr. R.R. Co., 34 N.Y. 9 (1865). The superseding cause becomes the cause of the injury suffered and cancels out any negligence of Defendant.

    A. CONDUCT OF FELLOW PASSENGERS AS SUPERSEDING CAUSE: For example, when a thief steals a car with the keys in the ignition and runs over a pedestrian, the car's owner typically will not be liable for the pedestrian's injury. The thief's acts will supersede and cancel out the car owner's negligence in leaving his keys in his car. Thus, if a fellow passenger murdered Mr. Jensen in retaliation for a bad business , the murder would be a "superseding cause" and clearly White Star Lines would not be liable for Mr. Jensen's murder. If Mr. Jensen's fellow passengers behaved in such a uncontrolled manner that Mr. Jensen decided on his own to step-in to try to control his fellow passengers, even though he had been told Second Officer Lightoller that no such assistance was needed, and as a result, the boat had to be launched without him then Defendant White Star Lines can not be liable for the actions of the fellow passengers or White Star Lines.  Clearly, Lieutenant Bjornstrom-Steffansson was able to both control the crowd and still find room in a lifeboat; and Mr. Jensen could have have also done so .

    B. MR. JENSEN'S CONDUCT AS SUPERSEDING CAUSE OR ASSUMPTION OF THE RISK:  Even if his fellow passenger's conduct was not a superseding cause canceling any negligence by The White Star Line, Mr. Jensen's own actions were a superseding cause. Mr. Jensen voluntarily chose to step out of Lifeboat D.  Everybody that remained in Lifeboat D lived. There was no need for Mr. Jensen to leave the boat when additional women arrived, since the lifeboat was not full when it was lowered away. Mr. Jensen voluntarily "assumed the risk" of his actions and the resulting injury. A person "assumes the risk" of injury when, with full knowledge and understanding of an obvious danger, he voluntarily exposes himself to a known danger. In such a situation, the injured person cannot recover for injury resulting from that danger. Once again, Defendant White Star Line is not liable for Mr. Jensen's injuries.

The following example illustrates this principle. Imagine you are sitting in the stands along the first baseline at a major league baseball game. You know that particular batter is known for swinging late fouling balls down the first baseline. When one of the batters does hit a foul ball that hits you in the head. You cannot recover for your injury because, by attending the game, you assumed the risk that you might get hit. See Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 166 N.E.2d 173 (N.Y. 1929).

Here, it is clear that Mr. Jensen "assumed the risk."

Because Mr. Jensen's actions that night reveal that he voluntarily assumed the risk that he might not survive, the Plaintiff cannot recover.

II.  MR. JENSEN'S OWN CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE BARS PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM

Contributory negligence is fault by the Plaintiff, which in conjunction with the negligence of Defendant, causes Plaintiff's injury. Any amount of contributory negligence bars recovery, even a minuscule amount of negligence. For example, even if White Star was 99.9% negligent and Mr. Jensen was .01% negligent, the law bars Plaintiff from recovering against White Star. Thus, even though White Star may have been negligent and that negligence was the major part of the cause of Mr. Jensen's death, the Plaintiff may not recover if Mr. Jensen did anything that contributed to his own death. So, if Mr. Jensen died because he disregarded the directions of the crew and jumped overboard without his life jacket, or because of his drinking Mr. Jensen did not act at all time in a reasonable manner and such unreasonable action, even if slight, contributed to his death, Mr. Jensen's contributory negligence would bar any recovery by Plaintiff.
 

CONCLUSION

As the testimony has revealed, Mr. Jensen's conduct the night of April 14-15, 1912 demonstrates the acts of others, of Mr. Jensen, or of both, caused the death of Mr. Jensen. Alternatively, Mr. Jensen's own acts of negligence contributed to his own death. In either case, Plaintiff may not recover against White Star Lines.
 
 
 
 

Dated:_________________
 

 

Judicial Process | Plaintiff | Defendant | Basic Facts | Negligence Law | Defenses | Witnesses
Jury Charge | Verdict Sheet | Contact AKO

Home

Links | Glossary | Awards & Comments | Estate of Peder Jensen | Carla Christine Jensen's Information for her Attorney | The White Star Line | Second Officer Lightoller's Memo to the White Star's Lawyer | Mauritz Hakan Bjornstrom-Steffansson's Letter to White Star Line Counsel | Plaintiff's Exhibit I | Teacher's Guide to Jensen v. White Star Lines | The Judicial Process in the US

Anderson Kill & Olick Home Page