Causation in Personal Injury Cases

Proving that one event caused another event can sometimes be deceptively complex. You must prove causation to win just about any personal injury claim. Sometimes causation is an open-and-shut issue or can even be assumed based on circumstances. In other cases, proving causation is a major challenge.

An Example of How Causation Matters

An Example of How Causation Matters

Imagine a horrific traffic accident where a drunk driver plows into a pedestrian, killing them instantly. The defendant’s lawyer asserts that the accident would have happened, and it would have killed the person, even if the driver had been completely sober. For the purposes of this example, we’ll assume that the pedestrian darted out in front of a car chasing a ball.

If the court accepts this explanation, causation will be missing from both a criminal prosecution and a lawsuit. The driver was intoxicated, but their intoxication did not cause the person’s death. 

Not only will the defendant walk free, but they will also win any wrongful death lawsuit filed against them. The only liability they would likely face would be a DUI charge. That is how important causation is. 

Elements of a Negligence Claim

Not all personal injury claims depend on negligence, but most do. Following are the four elements that you have to prove to win a negligence claim:

  • The defendant owed the victim a duty of care of some sort or another. Typically this just means a duty of ordinary care, such as the duty to drive safely. A doctor treating a patient, by contrast, would owe a professional duty of care.
  • The defendant failed to meet their duty of care.
  • The victim suffered damages.
  • The defendant’s failure to meet their duty of care caused the victim’s injury.

You must prove each of these four elements to win a negligence claim.

The Burden of Proof

How much evidence do you need to prove causation and the other elements involved in a negligence claim? In legal parlance, the term is “a preponderance of the evidence.” That just means enough evidence to prove to a court that it’s more likely than not that you’re right.

Remember, though, that you have to prove each of the four foregoing elements, including causation, to win. Proving only three of them is not enough. 

The Two Types of Causation

Texas, like other states, recognizes two types of causation. You have to prove both of them to win.

Cause in Fact

“Cause in fact” is also known as “but-for” causation. If you want to prove that X caused Y, proving cause in fact means that if X hadn’t happened, Y wouldn’t have happened either. For example, if the defendant hadn’t run the red light, the accident would not have occurred.  

Palsgraf and Proximate Cause

The second type of causation is the proximate cause. The idea behind a proximate cause is that it wouldn’t be fair to hold someone liable for the unforeseeable consequences of their actions. An example appears in the landmark case Palsgraf v. Long Island R. Co. 

In that case, the actions of railroad employees dislodged a package containing fireworks held by a passenger. The package fell to the platform and exploded, injuring a victim standing far away. Ultimately, the court ruled that the railroad was not liable because its employees could not have foreseen that dropping a package would injure a victim standing that far away. 

Palsgraf helped establish the rule that even if a defendant is negligent, they are liable only for the foreseeable consequences of their negligence. Since every action has virtually unlimited consequences, litigation would never end if you could hold a negligent party responsible for the unforeseeable consequences of their negligence.

Comparative Negligence: The Joker in the Deck

Blaming one side or the other for an accident often oversimplifies what actually happened. In many cases, the parties share fault. Not only do they share fault, they don’t necessarily share it 50/50. One party is usually more at fault than the other. How do you distribute liability when more than one party is at fault? Texas, like most states, applies the principle of modified comparative negligence.

Under Texas’s modified comparative negligence law, a court will assign a percentage of fault to each party. A victim whose negligence exceeds 50% cannot receive any compensation, no matter how severe their losses are. Otherwise, their compensation may be reduced according to their assigned percentage.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation With a Dallas Personal Injury Lawyer

If your claim has a causation problem, you’ve likely got a fight on your hands when it comes to seeking compensation. Don’t try to “go it alone”–hire an experienced Dallas personal injury lawyer to fight on your behalf. The attorney with Jay Murray Personal Injury Lawyers in Dallas is ready to help you. Contact us online today or call (214) 855-1420 to set up your free consultation.