Understanding Causation in a Personal Injury Case

If you’ve been injured because someone else failed to act reasonably under the circumstances, you may need to file a negligence case to recover compensation. To be successful, you will need to demonstrate that the other person caused your injuries. This element of negligence is known as “causation.”   

Standard Elements Required in a Personal Injury Case

Most personal injury claims involve allegations of negligence.

 To prove that someone was negligent, you will have to show four things:

  • That another party owed you a legal duty of care;
  • That person breached their duty of care towards you;
  • Their breach caused your injuries; and
  • Your injuries resulted in damages.

If you are able to prove the four elements listed above, you will win your negligence case. The third element, “causation,” is often contested in negligence cases. You have to prove causation to win your personal injury case.

What is Causation? 

When someone breaches their duty of care towards you, that breach has to cause your injuries for you to win your negligence claim. Sometimes, it is obvious who caused an accident. Other times, many people or factors can contribute to an accident. 

If you are driving on a Florida road, then you owe a legal duty of care to other drivers to drive carefully and follow all traffic laws. This legal duty applies to all Florida drivers. If someone breaches their duty of care to drive safely, then they can be held liable if their breach causes an injury. 

Florida law follows the legal standard of modified comparative fault with a 51% bar to recovery. This means that an individual can be partially at fault for an accident, but still recover at least some money for their injuries. However, they cannot share more than half of the blame.

Cause in Fact Explained

The first step in proving causation is proving that the defendant’s actions were the actual cause–also called “cause in fact”–of the accident. To do this, you must demonstrate that the defendant did or didn’t do something that was the main cause of your injuries. You have to prove that your injuries would not have happened but for the conduct of the defendant. 

An example here would be a driver making an illegal turn and causing an accident injuring the passenger of another vehicle. If that driver had not made an illegal turn, then the accident would have never occurred. In this example, the driver that made the illegal turn is the cause in fact of the injury to the passenger of the other vehicle.

Proximate Cause Explained

The next step in proving causation is proving that the defendant was the “proximate cause” of your injuries. To prove proximate cause, you must prove that your injuries were reasonably foreseeable or should have been foreseeable from the defendant’s conduct.

When something is foreseeable, then it is something that you can expect. If someone makes an illegal turn like in the previous example, it is foreseeable that the illegal turn could cause a car accident. This would make the illegal turn the proximate cause of the accident.

Proximate cause can be tricky to prove in some cases. Make sure you have an attorney’s help if you are attempting to prove negligence in a personal injury case.

The Importance of the Supreme Court Decision in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad

Foreseeability was determined by the United States Supreme Court long ago in the case of Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad. This case took place in 1924. A man was trying to board a train that had just started to move at a train station. The man jumped on the moving train and was assisted by a couple of railroad workers. While he was trying to board, the man dropped a package he was carrying that contained concealed fireworks. 

The fireworks went off as soon as they hit the ground and made a lot of noise and scared and startled people in the area. An individual reacted to the fireworks explosion and pushed against a set of heavyweight scales near the train tracks. These scales fell on Ms. Palsgraf and caused her injuries. 

Ms. Palsgraf sued the railroad company claiming that the railroad workers’ conduct in helping the man board the moving train caused her injuries. The United States Supreme Court made the ultimate decision on this case, finding that Ms. Palsgraf’s injuries were not foreseeable from the railroad workers’ conduct.

The Court found that it was not foreseeable that helping a man board a moving train would cause a chain reaction ultimately resulting in a woman getting injured some distance away.

Proving causation is essential if you want to win a personal injury case. Contact our law office for legal advice specific to your circumstances. Call (727) 796-8282 today.