If a person’s negligence was the direct (or proximate) cause of your injury, then you may be able to receive compensation.
The process of filing a personal injury lawsuit can be complicated. How do you know if you even have a claim against another person? While the answer will depend on the facts of your case and the laws that apply, a skilled personal injury lawyer can evaluate your case and determine if you have a viable case.
If you have been injured by the negligence of another person, you will have to prove four separate elements in order to receive damages:
- That the other person had a duty of care to protect you (or to not cause harm)
- That they breached that duty in some manner
- That you were injured because of this breach of duty
- That breach was the direct — or proximate — cause of your injuries.
The last element is what we will focus on today. What exactly is proximate cause, and how can it be proven in a personal injury case?
Proximate Cause Basics
Proximate cause is a legal term that essentially means that an injury was a foreseeable (or expected) consequence of an action. If a person is injured as a direct result of another person’s action, that act is the proximate cause of the injury. To win a lawsuit in a personal injury case, you must be able to prove proximate cause: that the other person’s negligence was the direct cause of your injuries.
Another way of looking at proximate cause is with the phrase “but for” — but for the other person’s actions, the injury would not have occurred. For example, if you slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk in front of a store, you could say that but for the store’s failure to clear their sidewalk, you would not have fallen and suffered an injury. If you were hurt in a car accident because the other driver was texting and driving, you could say that but for the other person texting and driving, the accident would not have happened and you would not have been injured. That is proximate cause: an injury was the direct result of another person’s negligence or wrongdoing.
Of course, not all cases are quite that simple. In order for there to be proximate cause, the injury in question must have been foreseeable. That means that someone cannot be held responsible for something that no reasonable person could have predicted would happen. For example, in the icy sidewalk example above, imagine that instead of you just walking on the sidewalk in front of the store, you climbed over a large display of shovels and fell. While falling off of the store’s display was the proximate cause of your injuries, the store would not be held responsible because it could not have foreseen that a reasonable person would do that (in addition, you would also be at fault for the accident because it is not reasonable to climb over a shovel display).
Another example may help you understand the concept of foreseeability in personal injury cases. Imagine that you are driving your car when you crash into a large truck. The truck is carrying chemicals, which explode upon contact with a different chemical that happened to be on the street from run-off from a car wash. The explosion causes a window to break several blocks away, sending broken glass into the street where a person is cut. Would you be responsible for that person on the street’s injuries? Probably not — because your actions were not the direct cause of his injuries and you could not have foreseen that a car accident would lead to a chemical explosion that would cause a window to break, leading to injuries. There is no proximate cause here.
Proximate cause, like many legal concepts, is complex. Whether or not your injuries were the proximate cause of another person’s actions requires an understanding of the facts of the case, the law, and how the law is applied to cases like yours. At the Law Offices of Larry H. Parker, we’ll be glad to assess your case to determine if a personal injury lawsuit is likely to succeed. Contact our office today at 800-333-0000 or email@example.com to learn more about how we can help you if you’ve been injured by another person. Initial consultations are always free, and we never charge a fee unless we get money for you!