Causation is one of the elements of negligence. The plaintiff must prove that her injury is linked to the defendants conduct. A defendant will not be liable to a plaintiff if the defendant was not the cause of the plaintiff’s injury even if the conduct was extremely negligent. Causation can be broken down into two categories: actual cause and proximate cause.

What is Actual Cause?

Actual cause is sometimes referred to as cause-in-fact. The plaintiff must prove that the plaintiff’s harm was actually caused by the defendant. Often, courts use the “but-for-test” to determine if the defendant’s conduct was the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injury. This test asks if the plaintiff harm would not have occurred in the absence of the defendant’s conduct.

Examples of the “But for” Test:

  • A defendant who ran a red light would not be the actual cause of a car accident that occurred several blocks away.
  • Bart goes to a party and has too much to drink. He decides to drive home. Bart loses control of his can and hits Suzie’s car. Bart would be the actual cause of Suzie’s injury because Suzie would not have been injured but for Bart’s negligence.

What is Proximate Cause?

When determining proximate cause courts consider whether the plaintiff’s injury was foreseeable to the plaintiff. Judges and juries often have to make a policy judgment about the scope of liability when considering proximate cause.

For example, if a defendant runs a red light it is foreseeable that the defendant could cause a car accident. However, suppose that the defendant ran a red light and hit a car that was carrying fireworks. Then the fireworks explode and launch into the air and land on Bob’s house. Bob’s harm would not be foreseeable to the driver that ran the red light.

Causation is often one of the trickiest elements in a negligence case to prove. If you have been in a car accident, you should consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. An attorney with experience in this field will be able to assist you in your negligence suit.