If you have been hurt because of the wrongful act of another person, you will most likely file a lawsuit alleging negligence. In a classic negligence action, one of the key elements that you must prove is “causation,” i.e., that the defendant’s breach of duty of care “caused” your injuries. Under the common law of negligence, two different types of causation have evolved-actual, or “but for” cause, and proximate cause. To successfully prosecute a personal injury claim, you must show the existence of both types of causation.
Actual (“But For”) Cause
Actual cause is pretty much as the name suggests – it asks the question “did the defendant’s negligence “actually” cause the accident and ensuing injury. In other words, if the defendant had not breached the duty of care, would the injured party have been hurt. If the answer is no, then you have established actual cause. For example, if a homeowner fails to repair a pothole in the sidewalk and you trip on the pothole, there’s actual cause for any injuries you suffer.
Proximate cause can be much more difficult to determine. Essentially, proximate cause looks at the specific injury and asks if it was reasonably foreseeable, based on the defendant’s actions. In the example above, let’s assume you tripped on the pothole and fell onto a wasp’s nest. The wasps swarmed out, traveled down the block and stung your neighbor 50 times. That neighbor went into anaphylactic shock and was hospitalized for two weeks, causing him to miss a trip to the Super Bowl, for which he’d already purchased tickets, at $2,000 per ticket. The neighbor would probably be unsuccessful in an attempt to recover the costs of the trip from you because there was no proximate cause.
At the Law Offices of Gregg A. Wisotsky, I offer a free phone consultation to every prospective client. For a complimentary evaluation of your case, contact my office online or call me at 973-241-7468. I will come to your home or the hospital to meet with you, if necessary. All major credit cards are accepted.