Proximate Cause

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What is Proximate Cause?

One of the trickiest parts of personal injury law is “cause.” The key to solving many cases is to establish cause, but this can be difficult because many accidents involve a series of actions involving several parties. We can untangle this thread and figure out who is to blame for the damage their actions caused by using the concept of “proximate cause.”

When you file a personal injury lawsuit against another party, you are essentially stating, “I was injured due to your actions or inactions.” Even if the liable party did not directly cause the victim’s damages, proximate cause allows you to pinpoint the cause of the damage.

What Is Proximate Cause?

The term “proximate cause” describes an action in a chain of events that was essential to the outcome but wasn’t directly to blame for the damages. For example, when one person’s actions cause another to directly harm a third party, this is known as proximate cause. Without this action, the damages might not have happened or would have been significantly reduced.

How the Law Determines Fault

The law uses two main types of cause to determine who’s at fault:

  • The cause in fact
  • The proximate cause

Because it just refers to the specific action that caused the injury, the “cause in fact” is easier to understand. If a man runs a red light and hits someone driving legally through the intersection, running the red light was what caused it to happen, or the “cause in fact.”

The proximate cause poses an alternative question. Could the individual who did the act have known it could cause harm? In the example above, the man should have been aware that running a red light could result in a collision because the entire purpose of traffic lights is to keep intersections safe.

Your accident attorney must demonstrate that what the defendant did or didn’t do was both the “cause in fact” and the “proximate cause” of your injury to have a case against the wrongdoer.

How is Proximate Cause Determined?

The “but for” and the “substantial factor” tests identify proximate cause.

If something would not have happened “but for” a person’s activities, that person is considered the proximate cause under the “but for” test. 

Say, for instance, that a careless motorist strikes a truck illegally transporting explosive material, which explodes and kills a passerby in the area. The conduct of the negligent motorist would not be directly responsible for the victims’ deaths.

A person’s activities are deemed a proximate cause under the “substantial factor” test if they were a “substantial factor” in the resulting damages. For example, consider a drunk motorist swerving in and out of traffic. If a car were to veer into a group of pedestrians while trying to avoid the drunk driver, this would be the main cause of the injuries to the pedestrians.

Why Does Proximate Cause Matter?

Proximate causation frequently serves to restrict the kinds of lawsuits that can be brought forward, preventing people from making absurd or ludicrous allegations about who injured them.

What if the man was hurrying to work and ignored the stoplight? What if his employer had threatened to fire him if he were to be late again?

Now, if the boss hadn’t issued this threat, the accident most likely would not have occurred. So, is the accident the boss’ fault?

Clearly, the answer is no. We can see that, even though the man’s supervisor had instructed him to be on time, the accident was brought on by his own conduct. The man understood running a stop sign was dangerous, but the boss had no way of knowing he would drive carelessly. Because of this, proximal causality is essential.

Proximate cause is merely a formal method of saying what we all already understand intuitively: the thief should be held accountable for stealing the cookies, not the baker who made the cookie

What Types of Personal Injury Cases Use Proximate Cause?

Proving proximate causation is necessary for proving cause in every personal injury case. Sometimes the cause is clear-cut, as in the example of the aforementioned stoplight. Other times it’s much more subtle. 

For instance, who is at fault if a kid jumps a barrier around a ride at an amusement park and gets injured by the ride? The kid or the amusement park? Many variables will affect the answer.

Proximate cause is particularly significant in the following situations:

  • Product Liability Claims
  • Wrongful Death Cases
  • Defective Drugs
  • Slip and Fall Injuries

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at The Brown Firm

If you have been injured, the experienced personal injury attorneys at The Brown Firm offer free consultations to accident victims in Georgia and South Carolina. Call 800-529-1441 to speak with our personal injury team today!

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