What is proximate cause?
In law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to an injury that the courts deem the event to be the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law: cause-in-fact, and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the “but for” test: But for the action, the result would not have happened.
What is the difference between actual cause and proximate cause?
To prove negligence in court, the plaintiff needs to show the other party’s breach of duty was both the actual and proximate cause of their injuries. To understand the difference between the causes, you first need to understand the concept of negligence.
Legally, there are four factors needed to prove negligence: duty, breach of duty, causation, and damages. Duty refers to the obligation a person owes to someone else to not cause harm. When that duty if ignored or intentionally neglected, it’s considered a breach. Causation refers to how the breach caused the accident. Once that is proven, the plaintiff can focus on presenting the damages or losses they sustained as a result.
Part of proving the elements of negligence is showing the actual and proximate causes. An actual cause, also referred to as cause in fact, is the simpler of the two concepts. For example, if a texting driver strikes a motorcyclist, the driver’s actions caused the accident. Proximate cause, however, has to be determined by law as the primary cause of injury. So, without the proximate cause the injury would not exist. In that way, it’s considered an action that resulted in foreseeable consequences without intervention. With the auto accident example, distracted driving would be the proximate cause.
What is the proximate cause requirement?
Section 26 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts adopts the “but-for” test as the appropriate test for resolving cause-in-fact issues, “Tortious conduct must be a factual cause of physical harm for liability to be imposed. Conduct is a factual cause of harm when the harm would not have occurred absent the conduct.” The Third Restatement rejects the “substantial factor” in favor of the but-for test, for varying reasons, including that the use of the substantial factor standard may permit a finding that a but-for cause is either not a sufficient causal connection or that even if it is, more is required to establish cause in fact.
Irrespective of what the standard is for determining the existence of a causal relationship, the issue arises as to how liability may be limited. Section 29 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts contains a primary limitation on liability, “An actor’s liability is limited to those physical harms that result from the risks that made the actor’s conduct tortious.
Proximate causation serves as a way of limiting the scope of the defendant’s potential responsibility by excluding injuries to the plaintiff which are not directly linked to the act or omission that caused the actual harm. Courts in Texas use proximate causation to limit the scope of the damages that a plaintiff can claim to those which could have been foreseen at the time the original injury occurred. Foresee-ability depends upon what the risks to the plaintiff that the defendant could reasonably have foreseen as a direct result of his actions.
Can the actions of different people be the proximate cause of my injury?
Yes. If two or more separate people breach a duty and each action is a proximate cause of your injury, you can recover from each person.
What is a superseding cause?
The term “superseding cause” means another intervening action which breaks the chain of causation. This means that while one person’s action may have contributed to the harm, another action can intervene which is the proximate cause of the injury.
This is especially important in multiple vehicle accidents, as one person’s action may have started a chain reaction, but possibly another person’s negligence was the actual and proximate cause of the injuries.
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