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Proving Causation in a Personal Injury Case

proving causation Personal injury in the legal context is an injury caused to a person’s body, mind, or emotions.  Personal injuries can occur in a vast number of ways and/or circumstances from a slip and fall to chemical exposure and product liability, which make this area of law extremely complex.  The main legal theory of personal injury law is negligence, and causation is without a doubt one of its most important elements.

Causation is something that produces an effect or result (e.g., the cause of the accident).  So, what must you do to prove causation in a personal injury case?  The theory of negligence in our legal system divides the element of causation or cause in two main areas:  1) Actual causation, and 2) Proximate causation.

Actual causation can be proven if the “but for” test is satisfied. The best way to explain this test is to illustrate it with an example.  Assume a driver is texting while driving and runs through a stop sign before hitting another vehicle.  “But for” the driver’s actions, this wreck would not have happened. There are other tests that may come into play, but this is the most common one.

Now, considering that this “but for” test could lead to unreasonable and unpredictable results, making virtually every human being liable for the injuries of another, the U.S. legal system has devised the proximate cause (legal causation) element, and was designed to be a limitation on causation and liability.  There may be more than one proximate cause of an event or occurrence.

In order for this element to be proven, the type of harm suffered by the potential plaintiff must have been foreseeable to the defendant at the time of defendant’s negligence.  In the best-case scenario, the plaintiff’s attorney will be able to prove that the negligent conduct of the defendant was both the actual cause (but for test) and the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s injuries.  However, things may become complicated if there are additional events in the causal chain.  To determine whether the defendant would also be liable where there are intervening events,  a reasonable foreseeability analysis must be performed.  For instance, if the additional event was or should have been reasonably foreseeable by the defendant when his acts or omissions led to plaintiff’s injuries, then he will remain liable for both the initial and subsequent injuries.  The most common foreseeable intervening causes are negligence of rescuers, medical malpractice, subsequent disease, subsequent accident, and non-extraordinary weather changes.

On the other hand, if the intervening events could not have reasonably been foreseen nor prevented by the defendant, it will be considered a “superseding cause” and the defendant’s liability will be cut off with respect to this additional harm.  Generally, crimes and intentional torts by other persons committed after defendant’s tortious conduct will be considered unforeseeable.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of the negligence of another person, we recommend you to contact us immediately.  The attorneys at the Amaro Law Firm have vast experience dealing with personal injury cases, and have successfully proven both actual and legal causation elements at trial, which has enabled them to obtain just compensation for their clients.  Contact us for a free consultation.