Understanding Causation in Negligence Cases

Injury law is based on torts. A tort is an act or omission that results in harm or injury to another person. Tort law governs whether a party is liable for harming another person. It also determines the amount of compensation owed to the injured party. 

Many personal injury cases filed are based on negligence. Negligence occurs when a person fails to act reasonably under the circumstances and injures another. Proving fault is an essential step in holding a party financially liable for your damages. 

To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish each of the following elements:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff 
  • The defendant breached the duty of care
  • The defendant’s breach of duty was a direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury
  • The plaintiff sustained damages

The third element is called causation and is the focus of this post.

Proving Causation for a Personal Injury Claim

Causation can be one of the most challenging negligence elements to prove. But, it is also the most crucial. Without causation, a defendant cannot be held financially liable for damages, even if the defendant is guilty of wrongdoing.

In the simplest interpretation of cause, it is the reason that something happens. Causation in tort law requires that you prove that the defendant’s actions materially contribute to the events that led to your injury.

That requires that you prove they were the direct cause (factual cause) and proximate cause of your injuries.

Direct Cause vs. Proximate Cause 

The law uses the “but for” test to determine if a defendant was the direct cause of a plaintiff’s injury. To prove direct cause, a plaintiff must show the injury would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s conduct.

Proximate cause is concerned with foreseeability. A plaintiff’s injury must have been a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct to establish proximate cause. If a defendant could not reasonably foresee that certain conduct would injure another, the defendant may not be a proximate cause of the accident. 

A car accident provides a good example of a negligence claim. Drivers owe a duty of care to other people to operate their vehicles safely and follow traffic laws. If the driver breaks the law, that conduct could be a direct cause of a car crash,

For instance, suppose a driver runs a red light and crashes into another vehicle. The car crash would not have occurred “but for” the driver running the red light. Therefore, running the red light is a direct cause of the accident.

A jury may find that a reasonable person could foresee running a red light could cause a crash. Therefore, running the red light is also a proximate cause of the crash. 

However, let’s assume that the driver hit an electric pole instead of another car. Running the red light was a direct cause of the crash with the electric pole. 

Because the driver hit the electric pole, the area lost power for several hours. During that time, a person fell down the steps inside their home and broke their leg because they could not see in the dark. Is the driver liable for the person’s damages?

No, because the driver could not reasonably foresee that running the red light would result in someone falling down their steps and breaking their leg. While there is cause and effect, running the red light is not considered a “proximate” cause of the person breaking their leg. The events are too remote for legal cause.

What Types of Evidence are Used to Prove Causation?

Proving that a defendant’s conduct led to your injury requires compelling evidence of the breach of duty. It also requires you to link the breach to your injury.

Evidence that is commonly used in personal injury cases to prove the facts that support the chain of causation include, but is not limited to:

  • Copies of police reports and accident reports
  • Testimony from the parties, eyewitnesses, and expert witnesses
  • Physical evidence from an accident scene
  • Medical records 
  • Videos and photographs of the accident, vehicles, injuries, and other relevant items
  • Employment records showing missed work because of injuries 
  • Research and reports 

Because each personal injury case is unique, the evidence is different. Your personal injury lawyer gathers evidence for your case and uses that evidence to support causation. 

Call Our Harrisburg Personal Injury Lawyers Today for a Free Consultation 

Our Harrisburg personal injury lawyers at Marzzacco Niven & Associates can help you recover money for your personal injury claim. Let us handle the investigation, claims, and settlement negotiations so you can focus on your recovery.

Contact or call (717) 231-1640 at our law firm today to schedule your free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Harrisburg, PA.