In an earlier blog, we explained the concept of the standard of care in a personal injury action. We showed that, before you can recover damages in the aftermath of an accident, you must show that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person, as determined by the jury. That’s only the first step, though. You must also prove to the court that the defendant’s carelessness or negligence caused you injury. Causation in personal injury lawsuits is a key piece of the puzzle.
Causation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Before you can hope to recover compensation for injuries suffered, you must show a causal link between certain wrongful acts of the defendant and any losses you sustained. As the laws of negligence have evolved, the courts have identified two types of causation that must be established:
- Actual cause—Also known as “but for” causation, this requires the jury to make the determination as to whether the injury would have been suffered in the absence of the defendant’s negligence or breach of care. In most cases, actual cause is not difficult to establish. If the defendant made an illegal lane change or failed to fix a broken stairway and you were hurt, there’s a clear causal link.
- Proximate cause—The law requires more than actual cause, though, as it would be too easy to hold a person liable for injuries that were not reasonably foreseeable based on the breach of duty. So the law requires that the jury also answer that question: was the injury suffered reasonably foreseeable by a person engaged in the careless or negligent conduct that actually caused the accident? For example, assume that you failed to fix a broken water pipe at your residential or commercial property and ice formed. A person (legally on your property) falls and suffers a broken leg. That person can no longer drive, but must ride as a passenger. Two weeks later, that person is riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle when the car is t-boned on the passenger’s side, causing serious injury to the person…the driver is unhurt. The injured party attempts to sue you, claiming that the injury would not have been suffered if he/she was driving and it’s your fault they weren’t. Most likely, the court will throw out the claim, saying there is no proximate cause, as the injury was not reasonably foreseeable.
Once you have established a breach of the duty of care, as well as actual and proximate cause, you must still show that you suffered actual loss. See our blog explaining the damage requirement in a personal injury claim.
If you or a loved one has been injured because of the carelessness or negligence of another person, our personal injury lawyers can help protect your rights. For a free initial consultation, contact us by e-mail or call our offices, in New Brunswick at 732-247-3600 or in Somerville at 908-448-2560.