In an earlier blog, we discussed the initial requirement of a personal injury lawsuit, that the injured party demonstrate that the defendant breached the duty to act as a reasonable person would. Once you’ve successfully shown that the defendant’s level of care was below that expected by a reasonable person, you must next show that the failure caused an injury.
Under the common law, there are two types of causation, both of which must be shown for a personal injury claim to succeed: actual cause and proximate cause.
Actual, or “but for” cause, is the simplest to show. To meet this burden, you need only show that, in the absence of the defendant’s breach of the duty of care, the accident would not have happened and the injury would not have been suffered. Actual cause can apply to direct losses—a person runs a red light and hits your car—the property damage to your car is a direct result of the breach. It can also, however, apply to indirect, or consequential, injuries. Suppose, in the accident above, the collision causes you to lose control of your car and careen into an ice cream store, causing loss of power and the ultimate loss of $10,000 worth of ice cream—running the red light was the actual cause.
But there’s another causal requirement before you can recover compensation—you must show proximate cause. Essentially, this requires that you show that the damages or losses suffered were reasonably foreseeable based on your negligence. That question is a question for the jury, so ultimately jurors will have to determine if there was proximate cause.
Even though you’ve established a breach of the standard of care, and met the causation requirements, you must still show that you suffered actual injury.
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