Foreseeability and Proximate Cause

Young Wooldridge, LLP attorneys

The majority of personal injury cases determine who was at fault in an incident or accident through the question of negligence. The basic definition of negligence is where one fails to use reasonable care in a specific situation. While this is a straightforward definition proving negligence, on the other hand, requires the plaintiff to show that the person who caused the injury was the actual cause of the injury and the proximate cause of that injury. This article will discuss foreseeability and proximate cause in proving fault in a personal injury case.

According to the Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute [Foreseeability | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (] foreseeability is said to ask “how likely it was that a person could have anticipated the potential actual results of their actions.” Foreseeability is the legal concept used to find out the proximate cause of an accident.

Proximate cause is defined [Proximate cause | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (] as “an actual cause that is also legally sufficient to support liability.” Foreseeability and proximate cause are applicable in car accident cases, therefore, seek out a Bakersfield car accident attorney for legal advice in your case.

The foreseeability test asks the question: should the person causing the injury have reasonably foreseen the likely results that would have come from their actions?

Generally, the law limits the scope of liability through foreseeability by the type of harm and the way it was instilled but it does not focus on the extent of harm. Let us consider what these three elements mean.

Unforeseeable type of harm – the person who causes an injury is not liable if the type of harm suffered does not foreseeably stem from their act of negligence. For example, if Daphne dropped a glass bottle on the floor and did not clean it up, she would be liable for injuries caused to anyone who cuts themselves from the glass. But if a freak fire results from sunlight hitting the broken glass at a specific angle and others are injured in the fire, Daphne is likely not liable for such injuries as this type of harm is not foreseeable by her negligent actions.

Unforeseeable manner of harm – this is when a person who causes injury is not at fault for a superseding cause when such a cause was not foreseeable. The superseding cause breaks the chain of causation between the initial act of negligence and the injury. Some examples portraying superseding causes that are unforeseeable include:

  • Acts of God – such as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, etc.
  • Third-party criminal acts, such as burglary
  • Third-party intentional tort, such as false imprisonment, assault

Superseding causes that are generally considered to be foreseeable are:

  • Rescuers who cause harm – passersby who may come to the aid of an injured person but may worsen the person’s injuries by moving him/her
  • Healthcare provider negligence; that is doctors and nurses
  • The weakened condition of the injured person may lead to subsequent injury or disease

The unforeseeable extent of harm – this is whereby the person who causes injury is at fault for the full extent of whatever harm they have caused, whether or not the extent of harm was foreseeable.

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