What’s Causation in a Negligence Case?

Causation is an important element in any negligence case. If you are injured in an accident and sue someone for negligence, you will have to prove that he or she caused your injuries. 

Sometimes, it’s obvious who caused an injury, but many times it is not. If you have legal questions, then you should speak to an experienced personal injury attorney to help guide you.

Standard Elements Required in a Personal Injury Case

Most personal injury cases are based on claims of negligence.

A plaintiff in a successful negligence case is required to prove four main elements:

  • Duty: a legal duty of care was owed to the plaintiff;
  • Breach: That person breached their duty of care towards the plaintiff;
  • Causation: The breach of duty caused the plaintiff harm; and
  • Damages: The injuries incurred actual costs to the plaintiff.

If a plaintiff can prove these four elements, then they can win their personal injury case.

Causation is a commonly contested element of negligence. To be successful, a plaintiff has to prove that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s harm. If a plaintiff can’t prove causation, then he or she will not be successful in a negligence claim.  

What is Causation?

A plaintiff has to prove that the defendant caused the plaintiff’s injuries by their action or inaction. Just because someone is involved in a car accident does not necessarily mean that the other driver caused any resulting injuries. 

Many factors can lead to injuries, even if they aren’t obvious right away.

A breach of duty has to cause harm to someone else for a negligence case to stand. If you are speeding on a Missouri highway, then you are breaking traffic laws. If your speeding causes an accident, then you could be held liable for negligence. 

But, if your speeding had nothing to do with why an accident occurred, and an accident occurred for other reasons, then you might not be held liable for negligence since causation can’t be proven.

Defining Actual Causation

The term actual causation – or cause in fact – refers to what someone did or didn’t do that directly caused injuries. This means that whatever the defendant did or didn’t do has to be the direct reason for any resulting injuries. A plaintiff has to show that the injuries in an accident would not have occurred but for the conduct of the defendant.

If a driver runs a red light and hits another car at an intersection who had a green light, then the driver running the red was the cause in fact of the accident.

In this scenario, the accident would not have happened if the driver had stopped at the red light. The more directly a plaintiff can prove a defendant’s conduct caused the plaintiff’s injuries, the better for their negligence case.

Defining Proximate Cause

A plaintiff must prove proximate cause when establishing causation. A plaintiff must show that any injuries sustained were reasonably foreseeable. When something is foreseeable, then it is expected or reasonably expected that it will occur in normal circumstances. If someone runs a red light, it’s foreseeable that an accident can occur because of it. 

Each case and situation is unique. Proving proximate cause can be complicated in certain cases. For a plaintiff to be successful in a negligence claim, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant was both the cause in fact and proximate cause of his or her injuries.

The Importance of the Case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad

A landmark case that defined foreseeability in negligence cases is Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad. In this case, a man was trying to board a train during the year 1924. The problem was that the train had already started to move. The man was assisted onto the train by two train employees.

While the man was trying to board the moving train, he dropped a package he was carrying that contained fireworks. The fireworks exploded upon landing on the ground, causing a loud boom. Reacting to the loud boom, someone fell against a set of heavy scales which fell on a woman (Ms. Palsgraf) and injured her. 

The woman sued the railroad company for helping the man aboard, contending that if they had not helped him aboard, she would not have gotten hurt. In a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States, the Court found that even though Ms. Palsgraf suffered injuries that were not her fault, her injuries were not foreseeable to the railroad guards trying to help the man board the moving train.

The Court ultimately denied Ms. Palsgraf the ability to sue the Railroad company for her injuries.  

An Attorney Can Help Prove Someone Else Caused Your Injuries

If you have been injured in an accident, then you probably have a lot of questions about what you should do first. That’s why The Bradley Law Firm offers a free consultation. To schedule your consultation with one of our experienced Missouri personal injury lawyers call us at (314) 582-9092 or contact us online.