Horvitz & Levy obtained the affirmance of a summary judgment for the defendant body spray/perfume distributor, defeating plaintiff’s arguments that the evidence against her was privileged and hearsay and that defendant’s product was a concurrent cause of her injuries.
The 30-year-old plaintiff was a long-term inpatient at a skilled nursing facility. She suffered severe burns when she doused herself with defendant’s body spray and ignited the spray with a cigarette lighter. While hospitalized for her burns, plaintiff told a recent divinity student graduate who was serving as a pastoral resident at the hospital that she intentionally set herself on fire. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that plaintiff’s intentional act of setting herself on fire was a superseding cause that precluded the imposition of liability on defendant for any defects in the spray.
Plaintiff appealed and defendant retained H&L to defend the judgment.
Plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because her statement to the pastoral resident was protected by the clergy/penitent privilege and was hearsay. Plaintiff also contended that even if her statement that she intentionally set herself on fire was admissible, summary judgment was improper because a trier of fact could find that her intentional act of self-harm was a concurrent rather than a superseding cause of her injuries.
The First District, Division Five, affirmed in an unpublished opinion. First, the court held that the clergy/penitent privilege did not apply because the pastoral resident was not required by the discipline or practices of her religion to keep her communications with patients secret. Second, the court held that plaintiffs’ declaration against interest fell into an exception to the hearsay rule. Third, the court held that plaintiff’s act of intentionally setting herself on fire was so unforeseeable that it was a superseding cause as a matter of law.