In an earlier blog, we talked about the standard of care in a personal injury claim based on negligence and discussed how, as an injured party, you must show that the defendant had a duty to exercise a certain level of care and that the defendant failed to (or breached) that duty. But that’s not enough to successfully prosecute a personal injury claim. Once you’ve established the duty and the breach, you must then show that the breach “caused” your injuries.
As the law of personal injury has evolved and developed over centuries, two different types of “cause” have been identified—actual cause (also known as “but for cause”) and proximate cause. To prove your case in a personal injury claim, you must show both actual cause and proximate cause.
Actual cause is pretty straightforward. Known also as “but for” cause, it simply asks the question—would the plaintiff have suffered the injury if the defendant had not breached the duty to act as a reasonable person. In most instances, it’s pretty clear—a driver runs a stop sign and hits a vehicle traveling on the cross road, causing personal injury. If the driver had not run the stop sign, there would have been no collision and the plaintiff would not have been injured.
Proximate cause is different and can be a much trickier proposition. Proximate cause essentially asks the question “Was the accident or injury reasonably foreseeable based on the defendant’s actions?” Assume that a person runs a stop sign, collides with a car that hits a fire hydrant, the hydrant floods the basement of a nearby home, where it ruins the homeowner’s rare baseball card collection. Was it reasonably foreseeable, when the driver failed to stop at the traffic sign, that his or her actions would cause the destruction of the baseball card collection? As with the determination of the standard of care, that’s something to be decided by a jury.
Click here to read What is Negligence—Part 3.
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