In a personal injury lawsuit, you typically must prove that the defendant was negligent. One of the keys issues in a negligence claim is causation. Simply put, you must show that the defendant’s actions or misconduct resulted in your injuries.
However, the legal concept of causation involves two different issues: cause in fact and proximate cause. To win a personal injury case, you must have evidence supporting both types of causation. (You also must meet the other requirements of a negligence claim.)
Understanding Cause in Fact
Cause in fact is sometimes called “actual cause.” In other words, you must prove that the defendant actually caused your injuries. For example, if a driver runs a red light and T-bones your car, it is likely that his or her conduct was the cause in fact.
Understanding Proximate Cause
Proximate cause is a more complicated legal concept. There is proximate cause if your injuries were foreseeable. In other words, the defendant should have reasonably anticipated that his or her conduct could result in your injuries. For example, someone should reasonably foresee that drunk driving could result in a serious car accident.
However, defendants are typically not liable for injuries that were unpredictable or could not be reasonably linked to their conduct. For example, consider this fact pattern:
- You run a red light.
- Another driver overreacts and swerves violently to avoid a collision.
- This driver strikes a building containing hazardous chemicals and starts a fire.
- Fumes from the fire seriously sicken a resident of a nearby apartment building.
In this case, you could argue that the fume-related injuries were not foreseeable. However, you may be responsible for the other driver’s injuries, since running a red light could foreseeably cause a car accident.
The Egg-Shell Plaintiff Doctrine
It is important to note that you may be responsible for injuries where the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries was not foreseeable. Sometimes called the “egg-shell plaintiff doctrine,” you must take the plaintiff as you find them. For example, suppose you run a red light, and rear-end another vehicle. The other driver has a brittle bone disorder and the collision causes a leg fracture. You cannot use the brittle bone disorder as a defense.
What if the Injured Party Placed Himself at Risk?
Contributory negligence and assumption of risk are defenses in a personal injury lawsuit.
- Contributory negligence and comparative negligence: the injured party’s own misconduct partially caused his or her injuries.
- Assumption of risk: the injured party understood there was a risk of injury and accepted that risk.
However, these defenses involve a detailed legal and factual analysis. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you understand these legal doctrines and apply them to your case.
How Can a Lawyer Help With Cause in Fact and Proximate Cause?
Proximate cause and cause in fact are complicated concepts. Without legal training, it can be difficult to understand and apply your state’s causation rules. If you were seriously injured in an accident, contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. A lawyer will review your claim and guide you through a full legal analysis. And, a personal injury lawyer can ensure that your claim is properly filed and developed.