To prove that someone is responsible for your auto accident damages, you must prove that the person's actions or inactions were the proximate cause of your injury. In essence, this means proving that the person's actions or inactions were the actual cause your damages. Below is an overview of proximate cause as it applies to injury cases.
Doesn't Have To Be the First or Last Thing
Some people think that if a chain of events leads to an auto accident, then the first event is the proximate cause of the accident. Others also think that the last event should be considered the proximate cause. In law, however, neither the last nor the first event is automatically the proximate cause of the ensuing accident.
Consider an example where the distracted driver of car A crashes into car B and pushes car B into car C. In this case, it may be tempting for the driver of car C to assume that the proximate cause of their accident is car B since it is the car that knocked car C, but that is not the case. In reality, the proximate cause of the crash is the distraction of car A's driver.
Proof via a Couple of Methods
There are two major ways of proving proximate cause:
Substantial Factor Rule
The substantial factor rule defines the proximate cause as the biggest or main contributor to the accident. This is helpful in situations where multiple things could have contributed to the accident. Consider an example where a shopper is distracted by their phone, steps into a loose tile, and then falls.
If another shopper is also distracted by their phone and trips on the first shopper, then the first lose tile is not the proximate cause of the second shopper's accident. This is because the second shopper could easily have avoided the fallen shopper if they too hadn't been distracted by their phone. Rather, the second shopper's distraction is the proximate cause of their accident since it was the main contributing factor.
'But For' Rule
The 'but for' rule means that without the event (action or inaction), an accident wouldn't have occurred. Say you are jogging in the park and a dog, which doesn't have a leash, bites your leg. In this case, you can claim that you wouldn't have suffered the dog bite if the owner of the animal had placed it on a leash. Therefore, letting the dog run without a leash is the proximate cause of your injury.
Lastly, proximate cause only applies to foreseeable events. For example, property owners should expect crime (such as muggings) in dark parking lots. Therefore, property owners who fail to light up their parking lots are responsible for muggings that occur in those parking lots. However, property owners can't foresee lighting strikes on their parking lots, so they are not responsible for lightning strikes that occur in their parking lots.
To learn more about proximate cause and how it pertains to your injury, speak to a personal injury attorney.