Examples of Proximate Cause in a West Palm Beach Personal Injury Case
Gregg Hollander | November 17, 2023 | Personal Injury
Most personal injury claims include causation as a required legal element. That means you must prove causation to win. In these claims, no matter how serious the defendant’s misconduct, there is no liability if there is no causal link between the misconduct and the harm that the victim is complaining of.
How Causation Works in Personal Injury Claims
- Actual cause is “but-for” cause – for example, “but for” the defendant running the red light, the victim would not have broken their leg.
- Proximate cause means that the relationship between cause and effect was foreseeable enough that it would be fair to hold the defendant liable for the victim’s losses.
You need to prove both types of causation to win most personal injury claims.
Examples of Cases Where Actual and Proximate Causes Are Both Present
In all of the below cases, courts will probably find the attribution of causation to the defendant uncontroversial.
- The defendant fails to stop at a stop light and plows into your car.
- An employee at a grocery store fails to erect a “Wet Floor” sign after mopping the floor. A customer slips, falls, and breaks their hip.
- An employee suffers an injury from poorly maintained factory equipment. Poor maintenance is the cause of the accident.
- A doctor removes the wrong kidney from a patient.
- A defective toaster causes a fire that burns the victim. The defect in the toaster is the cause of the victim’s burn injury.
- A dog owner lets their dog run free, and it bites the victim. The dog owner’s negligence is the proximate cause of the victim’s injuries, even if the dog had never acted aggressively before.
- A customer is injured in a mugging at a parking garage while the security guard is napping. In all likelihood, the mugger, the security guard, and the garage owner can all bear liability for the customer’s injuries.
Not every case is as clear-cut as the foregoing cases.
Cases Where Actual Cause Is Present, But Proximate Cause Probably Isn’t
The presence or absence of proximate cause is usually a judgment call. Nevertheless, the following cases demonstrate actual cause but probably fail to demonstrate proximate cause:
- A chain reaction in a multi-vehicle collision. Driver A hits Driver B, who hits Driver C, who hits Driver D. Driver D has a heart attack and dies.
- Janet runs a motorcycle rider off the road. The rider suffers minor injuries but proceeds to the hospital out of an abundance of caution. An emergency room staff administers standard pain medication, to which the motorcycle rider suffers an allergic reaction resulting in death. Janet is probably not liable for the rider’s death.
- A homeowner negligently repairs a leaky roof, and years later sells the house. The new owner suffers injury after the roof collapses in a tornado. Even if the collapse of the roof would not have happened but for the previous owner’s negligent repairs, the tornado is probably an intervening cause, relieving the former owner of liability.
- Robert’s negligence causes an accident, which results in a traffic jam. The resulting backup on the freeway causes an ambulance to arrive late at the residence of a heart attack victim, who subsequently dies due to the delay. Robert is probably not liable for wrongful death.
Every action taken by any one of us results in a chain of causation extending indefinitely into the future. Indeed, in most cases, we cannot even know the long-term effects of our actions. The law draws a line, beyond which we cannot bear liability, and calls this line “proximate cause.”
Cases Where Actual Cause is Absent
In some cases, actual cause is not present, thereby potentially relieving the defendant of liability. Examples include:
- A drunk driver strikes and kills a child who ran out into the street chasing a ball. The defense calls an accident reconstruction specialist, who proves that the child ran into the street so abruptly that even a sober driver could not have avoided an accident and the resulting death (Note: the driver is still guilty of DUI).
- A boy scout pitches a tent under a tree. Lighting hits the tree and catches the tent on fire, injuring the boy. It was the lightning, not the boy’s decision to pitch a tent under a tree, that caused the burn injuries.
- A customer in a grocery store collapses on a wet floor and breaks their leg. An investigation reveals that the customer fell to the floor due to a heart attack, not due to the slippery floor.
- A customer at a parking structure is mugged and injured inside the structure while unlocking their car. The assault occurs despite exhaustive security measures on the part of the owner of the structure. Owner negligence did not cause the assault.
- A driver suffers facial cuts after a falling tree limb smashes the driver’s windshield. The tree appeared perfectly healthy prior to the accident. The property owner did not cause the accident. If the tree had been old, the driver might have blamed the property owner for not trimming the tree.
In each of these examples, the injury or damage occurs independently of the actions of the individuals involved, indicating an absence of factual cause.
Causation Problems Are a Red Flag Telling You That You Probably Need a Personal Injury Lawyer
Causation can be a deceptively tricky and complex issue in personal injury claims. If you think you might have a causation problem, you should at least discuss the matter with a Florida personal injury lawyer. As long as you have a strong claim, almost any personal injury lawyer will represent you on a contingency fee basis, which means you pay nothing unless you win compensation.
Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in West Palm Beach
If you’ve been injured in an accident, please contact our experienced personal injury lawyers in Florida at Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation today. We have three convenient locations in Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach.
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Boca Raton Law Office
7000 W Palmetto Park Rd #500
Boca Raton, FL 33433
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – Fort Lauderdale Law Office
200 S.E. 6th Street #203
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Hollander Law Firm Accident Injury Lawyers – West Palm Beach Law Office
319 Clematis St #203
West Palm Beach, FL 33401