What Is Causation In A Personal Injury Lawsuit?
To win your personal injury lawsuit, you must prove that the defendant caused your injury. Causation is composed of two elements: (1) “but for” the defendant’s actions, you would not have been injured, and (2) your injuries were a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. You must prove both of these issues before you can win your lawsuit.
“But For” Explained
“But For” (or “actual” causation) concerns the factual circumstances leading to the accident. Specifically, that defendant’s actions caused your injuries. For example, if Patricia goes into a coffee shop for her regular morning coffee. Earlier, a patron spilled milk, which was never mopped up. As Patricia is entering the shop, she slips on the spill and injuries her back. But for the patron spilling the milk, Patricia would not have fallen. Therefore, Patricia may file a lawsuit against the patron.
However, Patricia may also file suit against the coffee shop and clerk. She can file against the clerk because, but for the clerk failing to clean up the spill, Patricia would not have fallen. Furthermore, the clerk works for the shop; therefore, she can also sue the clerk’s employer (i.e., the coffee shop).
Foreseeable causation (or “proximate” causation) means that your injury was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. Foreseeability means that any reasonable person in the defendant’s shoes would think that your injury is a reasonable result of their actions. Returning to the coffee shop above, spilled milk resulting in Patricia’s fall is a reasonable result; therefore, Patricia’s injury is foreseeable.
While Patricia can sue the patron, she doesn’t know who the patron is since the spill occurred before she entered the coffee shop. Rather than hunting around for the unknown patron, it is far easier for Patricia to sue the clerk and coffee shop. It is foreseeable that Patricia would slip on the spilled milk because the clerk did not clean up the spill. Accordingly, the clerk’s failure to clean up the spill is a proximate cause of Patricia’s injury.
Proximate cause can also end liability for some parties. For example, if the patron had just spilled the milk and soon thereafter, Patricia slipped, it is possible the clerk is not liable. If the clerk didn’t have enough time to discover the spill and to get a mop to clean it up, then the clerk’s failure to clean the spill isn’t a proximate cause of Patricia’s injuries (however, the person who spilled the milk is still in trouble).