Superseding Cause in Personal Injury Law

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 What is a Superseding Cause?

A superseding cause is a circumstance or somebody that disrupts the chain of events that led from the defendant’s negligence to the plaintiff’s harm. The incident legally bars the defendant from being held accountable for the harm suffered by the plaintiff. Whether the defendant’s carelessness played a significant role in the plaintiff’s injury is immaterial.

Establishing negligence in connection with the underlying accident or occurrence is typically the key element of culpability in a personal injury case. Additionally, the injured party must demonstrate that the negligent party’s action (or omission) was a direct cause of the harm suffered as part of proving negligence (referred to as a “proximate” cause in legalese).

This so-called “causal chain” is disrupted by intervening and superseding causes, which happen when a third party’s action or even a natural disaster contributes to the plaintiff’s injury. These causes can lessen or even eliminate the defendant’s liability, which affects your ability to recover just compensation (“damages”) for your injuries.

Imagine someone exiting a bus in a parking lot. In the meantime, the driver of a nearby car reverses into the individual who just got off the bus.

The injured passenger is suing the bus firm for failing to provide a secure area for passengers to depart. However, whether or not the bus company might potentially be held liable for the passenger’s injuries, in this case, the conduct of the car’s driver may be seen as a more important factor. In other words, the bus company will blame the carelessness of the automobile driver as a primary cause of the passenger’s injuries in a personal injury case brought by the wounded passenger against the bus company.

Although the defendant’s activities are not a proximate cause of the accident when a superseding cause is present, they are nonetheless a but-for cause of the accident. This is due to the weak link between the defendant’s acts and the victim’s injuries.

For instance, a worker at a grocery shop mops up a spill, leaving the floor wet, and posts a warning notice. Before the floor has cured, someone else removes the sign, creating a slippery area that is not indicated. A customer trips and hurts herself in the process. Because it was not anticipated that the other party would remove the sign, their acts serve as a superseding cause, absolving the store and the employee of responsibility.

Finding out who might be responsible for your injuries can be difficult and occasionally unclear. An adept lawyer can assist you in resolving these problems so that you can obtain fair compensation for your damages.

What is an “Intervening Cause”?

An intervening cause is an event that takes place before, during, or after the defendant’s conduct and results in the accident and injuries. For instance, a grownup might place a loaded weapon on a table while adjacent kids are playing. A child takes the pistol, shoots another child, and causes injury. While leaving a loaded firearm outside is careless, the youngster discharging the weapon is an additional factor. This is because the harm was brought on by the child’s activities, which took place after the adult had left the pistol out.

Foreseeability is essential in deciding whether an intervening cause will result in a defendant being exempt from culpability. The criminal would not be exonerated of responsibility if the intervening event or behavior was predictable. Therefore, the adult will probably still be accountable for the other child’s injuries because it was predictable that a youngster would play with a pistol that was left out and that someone would get hurt as a result.

A new cause is frequently referred to as an “intervening cause” if, after the defendant acts carelessly against the plaintiff, it joins forces with the defendant’s carelessness to contribute to or exacerbate the plaintiff’s injury. The intervening cause must therefore arise after the defendant’s negligent action or inaction, which is a crucial component of this definition.

An intervening cause might be a natural occurrence, like a tree branch falling from a tree, or it can be the action of another person, who is referred to as a “third party.” Even when an intervening cause is alleged to exist, the initial defendant will typically still be held accountable for the plaintiff’s injury, at least in part.

The biggest distinction between a superseding cause and an intervening cause is this. A superseding cause typically absolves the original defendant of responsibility, in contrast to an intervening cause, which does not. A superseding cause, then, is an intervening act that is sufficient in law to shift responsibility for the injury in question from the defendant to a third party or a natural occurrence.

Usually, Foreseeability Is the Key

Foreseeability is the main distinction between an intervening cause and a superseding cause. When an intervening act was or should have been reasonably foreseeable to the original defendant, it is referred to as a superseding cause (or act) and absolves them of responsibility.

Let’s examine an illustration of this.

Let’s imagine that a homeowner recklessly excavates a hole in a sidewalk and leaves it wide open without giving passersby any advance notice. The plaintiff falls into the hole as a result of another pedestrian’s careless failure to provide enough space for the plaintiff to pass on the sidewalk. According to established premises liability rules, the homeowner is almost negligent for leaving an open hole in the sidewalk. Additionally negligent was the second pedestrian who pushed the plaintiff into the gap.

As a result, although the second pedestrian’s action was an intervening act, was it a superseding act? The intervening activity was (or should have been) reasonably foreseeable to the homeowner, thus the answer is probably no. It is fair to anticipate someone slipping into an open hole left in the sidewalk, especially if it is busy.

Can I Assert that the Superseding Act Interfered with My Liability and that the Plaintiff Was the Cause?

Yes, a defendant may argue that the plaintiff’s actions superseded any previous events that would have affected responsibility. A defendant may assert that the plaintiff’s actions worsened the initial injury.

For instance, a plaintiff fell on the defendant’s property and twisted her ankle. She didn’t go to the doctor. She fell at a friend’s house later that day and shattered her ankle. The second fall would be a more significant occurrence.

How Can I Show That the Superseding Event Was Not the Intervening Conduct?

For a defendant to remain accountable for the harm sustained, a plaintiff must show three things:

  1. The intervening behavior did not legally cause the plaintiff’s injury.
  2. The superseding act wasn’t detrimental on purpose.
  3. The harm wasn’t outside the range of the risk that the defendant’s carelessness had produced.

Do I Need to Speak with a Lawyer About Superseding Cause?

It is important for you to speak with a personal injury lawyer regarding superseding causes. You’ll gain a greater understanding of your situation and its potential repercussions.

These kinds of situations can include a great degree of uncertainty, so it’s crucial to have a lawyer on your side who can make sense of the procedure. To locate the ideal attorney in your region right now, use LegalMatch.

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