Case Name: People v. Acosta
Citation: 284 Cal. Rptr. 117 (1991)
Facts: Two police helicopters crashed, killing three occupants, during a chase of the defendant, Acosta. One of the helicopter pilots violated FAA regulations during the chase.
Defendant’s argument: The helicopter pilot’s FAA violations were a superseding cause of the accident. Also, it was unforeseeable (highly extraordinary) for a mid-air helicopter crash because the FAA inspector that testified had never heard of one and there was no civil or criminal cases involving a two-helicopter collision.
State’s argument: Acosta’s actions were the actual (“but-for”) cause of the helicopter crash. The proximate cause requirement was fulfilled because it was foreseeable or “a possible consequence which reasonably might have been contemplated.”
Holding: Acosta was the proximate cause but the judgment was reversed because there was insufficient evidence of malice.
Reasoning: The proximate cause requirement was fulfilled because it was foreseeable or “a possible consequence which reasonably might have been contemplated.” That no pursuits have ever before resulted in a helicopter crash or midair collision is more a comment on police flying skill and technology than upon the innate probabilities involved.
Dissent: The intervening negligent conduct (of the helicopter pilot) and the risk of harm were not foreseeable; therefore, the law does not assign blame. The dissent then quoted Cardozo in Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co (1928) and stated that the helicopters were not in the “zone of danger.” (Dissent is incorrect because the trier of fact also looks to see if there is a sufficient relationship that the law is justified in imposing liability)