In an earlier post, we addressed the standard of care in a personal injury claim and explained how a successful claim requires a showing that the defendant failed to meet (or breached) the required duty of care—to act as a reasonable person would. Once you’ve demonstrated that the defendant breached that duty, you must next show a causal link between the breach and your injuries. As the laws of personal injury have developed over the centuries, two types of cause have been identified, both of which must be shown for your claim to prevail—actual cause and proximate cause.
Actual, or “But For” Cause
A demonstration of actual cause requires that you show that the accident, and subsequent injury, would not have occurred in the absence of the defendant’s breach of the duty of care. It’s usually not difficult to show—a car runs a stop sign, you slip on a wet or slippery floor, a product malfunctions and you are injured.
Proximate cause, on the other hand, can be much harder to prove. Essentially, “proximate” means “close to,” and a showing of proximate cause requires that you demonstrate that the wrongful act and the injury suffered were so closely related that it would be reasonable to expect that the breach of duty—the wrongful act committed—would result in the harm suffered. Essentially, the requirement of proximate cause says that the court won’t hold a negligent person responsible for every injury that resulted from a wrongful act, but only those that are reasonably foreseeable.
Let’s look at an example. Suppose that you run a stop sign or red light because you were looking at your phone. You hit another car, causing both property damage and personal injury. It’s certainly reasonable to expect that, if you fail to stop at a light or sign, there will be traffic coming the other way and that you may collide with another vehicle. But let’s take it a little further. Suppose the car you strike careens through the intersection and hits a fire hydrant, causing the fire hydrant to send water cascading down the street. The water causes a flood, which damages a number of signed first editions at a home near the scene of the crash. Would that be reasonably foreseeable? A jury would have to make that decision.
Let’s assume that you’ve been able to show a breach of duty and meet the causation requirements of a personal injury claim. You must still show that you’ve suffered actual loss.
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At Barnard, Mezzanotte, Pinnie & Seelaus, we have fought for the rights of individuals throughout Delaware County since 1980. We offer a free initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us at 610-565-4055 or contact us online.