Proving Causation in Personal Injury Claims

Proving Causation in Personal Injury Claims

Causation is an essential element of any personal injury claim. You’ll need to show that another party caused your injuries in order to receive compensation for your damages.

Causation is one of four elements you must prove in a personal injury case.

The four elements are:

  • Duty
  • Breach of duty
  • Causation
  • Damages

In a legal context, there are two types of causation that must be shown:

  • Cause-in-fact
  • Proximate cause

A failure to prove both of these elements can defeat your personal injury claim.

What Is Cause-In-Fact in Personal Injury Claims?

What Is Cause-In-Fact in Personal Injury Claims?

Cause-in-fact is also known as actual causation. The “but for” test is used to see if actual causation exists. But for the defendant’s action or omission, would you have been injured?

If the answer is yes, you’ve got actual causation. For example, a motorcycle accident occurs when a driver changes lanes without looking. The driver’s car sideswipes the motorcycle, causing serious injuries.

If it were not for (“but for”) the driver’s negligent action of changing lanes without looking, the motorcyclist would not have been injured. Therefore, the driver’s actions were the cause-in-fact of the accident.

Cause-in-fact is generally a simpler question than proximate causation, which has a more subjective test.

What Is Proximate Cause in Personal Injury Claims?

The proximate cause test focuses on foreseeability. Should the defendant have reasonably foreseen that his conduct would cause this type of injury to the plaintiff?

In many cases, proximate cause is straightforward. However, proximate cause can be complicated if there is a chain reaction of events that eventually result in injury to a person.

For example, a distracted driver who is texting while driving accidentally collides with a pedestrian, causing serious injuries. The distracted driver should have reasonably foreseen that failing to pay attention while driving would result in this type of accident.

However, consider that the pedestrian is taken to the hospital and calls her husband. The husband immediately drives to the hospital to see how his wife is doing. The husband gets into a car accident while on the way to the hospital.

Can the distracted driver be held liable for the husband’s injuries? The husband would not have driven to the hospital but for the distracted driver’s injuries, so cause-in-fact exists. However, it probably wasn’t reasonably foreseeable that the distracted driver’s actions would result in that type of injury to the husband. Proximate cause most likely won’t be found.

If the link between an action and an injury becomes too distant, proximate cause may be lacking. This limitation prevents a finding of legal liability in every case where cause-in-fact exists.

What Happens When There is Shared Fault for an Accident?

There are often multiple causes of an accident. One of these causes may have been your own negligence. How does this impact whether you can seek a financial recovery for your injuries? 

In Florida, it may reduce your recovery, but it does not bar you from making a claim against another negligent party.

Comparative Negligence

Florida follows a pure comparative negligence law. Your own negligence won’t prevent you from seeking compensation for your injuries. However, it will reduce your recovery. You can only receive compensation from another party based on their percentage of fault for the accident.

For example, say you are involved in a car accident with another driver. You were 30% at fault and the other driver was 70% at fault. You have $100,000 in damages from the accident.

You would be able to recover $70,000 in damages from the other party. You will be responsible for the other $30,000 damages due to your own fault percentage. You will still need to prove both actual and proximate causation by the other driver.

Multiple Causes of a Personal Injury Claim

There may be multiple people who caused your injuries. A negligent driver may cause a rear-end collision with your vehicle. Then, when you are at the hospital getting treatment, a doctor makes an error that makes your injuries worse.

In this case, you could have both a personal injury case against the negligent driver and a medical malpractice claim against the doctor. It’s possible that the driver could also be responsible for the worsening of your injuries due to the medical error. This would require proving that the driver could reasonably foresee that his negligent driving would create the risk of further injury due to medical malpractice.

In any personal injury case, the Florida statute of limitations prevents the filing of a claim after four years, so don’t delay filing your lawsuit for too long.

Discuss Causation With a Personal Injury Lawyer

Every personal injury case has a unique set of facts. Some cases may have multiple causes that must be carefully analyzed. To determine whether you can prove causation in your claim, talk to a personal injury lawyer.

Be prepared to explain the exact circumstances that led to your injuries. If you can prove both cause-in-fact and proximate causation, you’ll have satisfied one critical element of your personal injury claim.