Question of Fact Whether Firefighter’s Injury Was Proximately Caused by Driver’s Negligent Operation of His Car Under the “Danger Invites Injury” Doctrine—Firefighter Was Injured Removing Injured Driver from His Car After an Accident
The Second Department determined a firefighter may be entitled to coverage under his own insurance policy’s supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorists (SUM) coverage. Plaintiff-firefighter responded to a car accident and injured his shoulder removing the injured driver, Goodman, from his car. Plaintiff recovered the limit ($25,000) of Goodman’s policy and sought to recover under his own SUM endorsement. Reversing Supreme Court, the Second Department held it could not be determined as a matter of law that plaintiff’s injury was not proximately caused by Goodman’s negligent use of his car. Plaintiff had invoked the “danger invites rescue” doctrine in support of his argument that his shoulder injury was proximately caused by Goodman’s negligence:
SUM endorsements provide coverage only when the injuries are “caused by an accident arising out of such underinsured motor vehicle’s ownership, maintenance or use” … . Factors to be considered in determining whether an accident arose out of the use of a motor vehicle include whether the accident arose out of the inherent nature of the vehicle and whether the vehicle itself produces the injury rather than merely contributes to cause the condition which produces the injury … . ” [T]he [vehicle] itself need not be the proximate cause of the injury,’ but negligence in the use of the vehicle must be shown, and that negligence must be a cause of the injury'” … . ” To be a cause of the injury, the use of the motor vehicle must be closely related to the injury'” … . “[T]he use of the underinsured vehicle must be a proximate cause of the injuries for which coverage is sought” … .
[Plaintiff] invoked the doctrine of “danger invites rescue” to establish that Goodman’s negligent use of the underinsured vehicle proximately caused his injuries. That doctrine imposes liability upon a party who, “by his [or her] culpable act has placed another person in a position of imminent peril which invites a third person, the rescuing plaintiff, to come to his [or her] aid” … . The doctrine also applies “where the culpable party has placed himself [or herself] in a perilous position which invites rescue” … . “In order for the doctrine to apply, the rescuer must have had a reasonable belief that the person being rescued was in peril” … .
Here, [the insurer] failed to establish that [plaintiff] was not entitled to coverage under the SUM endorsement. The evidence in the record establishes that Goodman’s negligent use of his vehicle directly caused the accident that led to him being trapped and in obvious need of medical attention, which, in turn, led to Rich’s intervention and resulting injuries … . It cannot be said, as a matter of law, that Goodman’s negligent use of his vehicle was not a proximate cause of [plaintiff’s] injuries under the doctrine of danger invites rescue. Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have denied that branch of the petition which was to permanently stay arbitration. Matter of Encompass Indem. Co. v Rich, 2015 NY Slip Op 06432, 2nd Dept 8-5-15