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Proximate Cause vs. But-For Cause – Proving a Negligence Claim

Proving Causation

In a negligence case, a person must prove four things in order to be compensated for any injuries they suffered. Those four things are duty, breach, causation, and damages suffered. Concerning causation, there are two different ways that a person could have caused an injury. Proximate causation and but-for causation.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause can help determine the foreseeability of a defendant’s action. When determining if an action proximately caused a plaintiff’s injury, there are a few questions that one must ask. Some of the questions include whether or not the defendant’s action would foreseeably cause the plaintiff’s injury, whether the type of injury or harm was foreseeable, and whether the plaintiff could have foreseen that an injury would occur because of the actions of the defendant.

The last question is important because it can potentially limit the damages that the plaintiff may receive. If in fact the plaintiff could have foreseen the injury or injuries that occurred because of the defendant’s actions, they may be partially liable for their own injury, and thus may not be able to recover the same amount of damages as they otherwise would be able to if the plaintiff could not have foreseen the injuries that occurred.

But-For Cause (Actual Cause)

But-for cause is different from proximate cause because the questions that are asked relate to the chain of events. For example, “but-for this action, would the injury have occurred?” In many instances of looking for actual cause, there is a limit as to how far back the questions can go, because asking these questions can lead jurors and even attorneys down a rabbit hole of questions.

However, some common questions that can be asked, especially in personal injury or car accident cases are, “Would the accident have occurred but-for defendant’s speeding””, or “But-for the defendant’s negligent use of their phone while driving, would the plaintiff have sustained any injuries?”

These questions can help determine fault if proximate cause cannot directly determine if the defendant was liable. Although the two example questions above would be very simple in determining fault, in a court setting the questions can often go back a little further and be a little more complicated. For example, if someone suffered injuries because they had to step off sidewalk due to an overgrown tree, and fell, the question would then be something like, “But-for the overgrown tree, would the plaintiff still have gotten injured?” This requires people to determine who controlled the tree, and if they in fact had a duty to keep it trimmed so that people could comfortably use the sidewalk.

Why Are These Types of Causation Important?

Proximate Cause and But-For Cause are important because they can help determine if the defendant was in fact liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, and how liable they were. If, using questions of proximate cause, the defendant could only have foreseen certain results from their actions, they might not have to pay a significant amount of damages compared to if they knew that their actions could cause injury to someone else. Using questions of but-for cause, if someone did have domain and control over an area, and did not take proper precautions to ensure its safety, they could be on the hook for damages in the event of a personal injury suffered because of that lack of care.

Have You Suffered Personal Injury and Have Questions About Cause and Liability?

Contact the attorneys at Hurst Limontes LLC, where we have decades of combined experience fighting for our clients and determining the liability of any defendant. Call or email our offices today for a free consultation.

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    Our Fees

    It cost $0 up front to hire our office. We work on a contingency fee basis, which means you only pay us if we settle your case or obtain a verdict on your behalf.

    If we’re unable to obtain a settlement of verdict for you we eat the costs we’ve advanced to litigate your case, which includes costs for ordering medical records, filing your case, hiring experts, deposing witnesses, and many other things.

    If we do settle your case or obtain a verdict for you our standard rate is 33% of the settlement or verdict, plus reimbursement for the expense we’ve previously advanced. Our fee never increases like some personal injury attorneys, even if we have to take your case to trial.

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