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Understanding Negligence: Causation

CausationIn an earlier blog, we explained the requirement that a personal injury plaintiff show a breach of the duty of care in order to succeed in a lawsuit for damages. That’s only the first step, though. Once you’ve established a breach, you must then show that the defendant’s actions caused your injury. It becomes even more complicated, as you have to show both actual cause and proximate cause.

Actual Cause

Actual cause, also known as “but for” causation, simply asks the question “if the defendant had not breached the duty of care, would the plaintiff (injure person) have actually suffered the injury. If the defendant can show that the accident would have happened regardless of his or her actions, the personal injury claim will fail. If, on the other hand, the plaintiff can show that he or she would not have been hurt if the defendant had not acted negligently, the plaintiff must then show what is known as “proximate” cause.

Proximate Cause

It’s a fact of life that few events result from a single cause. It’s the same with an accident causing a personal injury. For example, if two parties are involved in a motor vehicle accident, there could a wide range of factors that contributed to the accident—one driver was speeding, the other driver ran a stop sign, the roadway had potholes or loose gravel, and the brakes on one of the vehicles malfunctioned.

The requirement of proximate cause evolved because plaintiffs lawyers kept expanding the concept of actual cause, extending the scope of liability wider and wider. Proximate cause essentially asks this question: Was the accident or injury “reasonably foreseeable” as a result of the defendant’s conduct? If you run a stop sign, is it reasonably foreseeable that you will collide with another vehicle and cause personal injury or property damage? Probably yes. But what if the person driving the other car was a heart surgeon on his way to perform a heart transplant? Are you responsible for any injuries to or the death of the heart transplant patient because the operation could not be performed? Most likely, no.

Contact Metzger & Kleiner

At Metzger & Kleiner, we offer a free initial consultation to every client. For an appointment, contact our office online or call us at 215-567-6616 in Philadelphia, 610-435-7400 in the Lehigh Valley, or toll free at 866-847-4170.

We take all personal injury claims on a contingency basis. We will only bill you attorney fees if we recover compensation for your losses.

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