March 4, 2024

Personal injury lawsuits follow the preponderance of evidence standard of proof, significantly less stringent than the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard used in criminal cases. 

Still, proving a case may not be as simple because you must show that the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of damages. This guide explores the concept of proximate cause from its definition in examples and will be an excellent read for you if you are navigating a personal injury lawsuit.

What Is the Proximate Cause?

Proximate cause is the action that sets off a chain of events leading to harm. It is evaluated based on the foreseeability of the link between the actions and the outcome. 

If the defendant’s actions are a direct cause of harm, it’s no longer defined as the proximate cause; instead, it is defined as the actual cause. 

Proving Causation

Causation is one of four elements of negligence required in proving liability on the defendant’s part. States follow two main approaches when determining causation; the “substantial factor” and the “but for” test. 

Substantial Factor Test

The “substantial factor” test is the most commonly used. It focuses on whether the defendant’s actions were a major factor in causing the harm. 

For example, suppose a driver was running late because their vehicle had suffered mechanical damage due to a defective part that had to be rectified, affecting their program. 

If the driver sped in and hit another car when trying to make up for the lost time, their reckless driving would be the proximate cause of the accident, although the defective car part’s breakdown set off the chain of events leading up to the accident. 

But for Test

The “But for” test focuses on whether the accident could have occurred if the defendant was not negligent. If the victim can show that the accident had no chance of occurring, but for the actions of the defendant, then the liability falls on the defendant. 

If the harm would still have occurred without the defendant’s contribution through their negligence, then the defendant may not be liable. This approach is often applied when determining the actual or the legal clause. 

Foreseeability and Proximate Cause

As mentioned earlier, the proximate cause is evaluated based on the foreseeability of the outcomes based on the actions. “If it is obvious to a reasonable person that the actions of the defendant would result in an accident, the occurrence of the accident can be termed foreseeable. And that makes the defendant liable for damages,” says Attorney Charles Boyk of Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC. 

For example, suppose a speeding driver crashes into you. Any reasonable person understands that speeding increases their chances of getting into an accident, so the crash is foreseeable. Suppose the same driver crashes into an explosive material storage facility triggering an explosion. In that case, they may not be necessarily liable for the explosion because the explosion is not a foreseeable outcome of speeding.

Multiple Cause Accidents

Some accidents will have multiple causes, making proving liability challenging. For example, say a vehicle hits you while standing on the sidewalk,  but it also happens that another vehicle was pushed into the sidewalk. 

You can seek compensation from the driver who hit you, but you could also bring the driver who triggered the chain of reaction into the lawsuit since they were the cause of the accident. 

Irrespective of the circumstances, it is important that you have a lawyer working with you, In order to  better your chances of her getting fair compensation.