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Sexual Assault Victim's Suicide Is Not As A Matter Of Law A Superseding Cause

Rondini v. Bunn, [Ms. 1190439, May 7, 2021], ___ So. 3d ___ (Ala. 2021). Answering a certified question from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, the Court (Mitchell, J.; Bolin, Shaw, Wise, Bryan, Mendheim, and Stewart, JJ., concur; Parker, C.J., concurs in part and concurs in the result; Sellers, J., concurs in the result) holds that the suicide of a victim of an intentional sexual assault is not, as a matter of law, an intervening cause which cuts off liability of the assailant for the wrongful death of the victim.

In resolving the certified question, the Court first notes that the federal court had held “‘a reasonable juror could conclude that [Bunn’s] conduct was the cause-in-fact of Megan’s suicide’ but that ‘proximate causation is less certain.’ Rondini v. Bunn, 434 F.Supp.3d 1266, 1278 (N.D. Ala. 2020).” Ms. *6. The Court holds that “[w]hen a person commits suicide after an alleged sexual assault, that act does not as a matter of law break the chain of causation so as to absolve the alleged assailant of liability,” Ms. *11, and explains

… [T]raditional negligence concepts like foreseeability and proximate cause, which form the backbone of the negligence analysis in Gilmore [v. Shell Oil Co., 613 So. 2d 1272 (Ala. 1993)], have a more limited application in intentional-tort cases. See Shades Ridge Holding Co. v. Cobbs, Allen & Hall Mortg. Co., 390 So. 2d 601, 607 (Ala. 1980) (explaining that “in cases of intentional or aggravated acts there is an extended liability and the rules of proximate causation are more liberally applied than would be justified in negligence cases”); see also W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 9 at 40 (5th ed. 1984) (explaining that in most cases involving intentional torts “[t]he defendant’s liability for the resulting harm extends ... to consequences which the defendant did not intend, and could not reasonably have foreseen, upon the obvious basis that it is better for unexpected losses to fall upon the intentional wrongdoer than upon the innocent victim.”

Ms. *12.

Clarifying the narrow scope of its holding, the Court observes “the question certified by the federal court concerns an alleged sexual assault. To answer that question, we need declare only that the suicide of a person who is the victim of one specific intentional tort – sexual assault – is not a superseding cause that will absolve the alleged assailant of liability as a matter of law. Whether other intentional torts stemming from a defendant’s extreme and outrageous conduct that causes severe emotional distress to the victim might also support a wrongful-death action after a suicide is a question for another day.” Ms. *15.

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