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Proximate Cause in Personal Injury Cases

Posted in personal injury on May 11, 2020

Causation is a critical element in any personal injury claim in Texas. It is one of the four main elements of proof necessary for most claims. In general, a plaintiff’s attorney will have to prove a defendant responsible for the proximate cause of the injury in question to achieve financial compensation from that defendant. Defining proximate cause in a personal injury case in Texas could help you understand what elements you will need to prove your claim.

What Is the Difference Between Actual Cause and Proximate Cause?

 The actual cause of an accident, also called the cause in fact, refers to the action or omission that caused the accident. For example, if a driver ran a red light and crashed into a motorcycle, the driver’s actions would be the actual cause of the accident. The proximate cause is the primary cause of the injury. The proximate cause is the action without which the plaintiff reasonably would not have his or her injuries. In the red light example, the driver running the light would be both the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The likelihood of a cause being proximate grows as the cause becomes more directly connected to the injury. In the car accident example, for instance, the driver running the red light might be the actual cause of the accident, but if the victim’s seat belt malfunctioned, this could be the proximate cause of the victim’s injuries. Not all cases have a proximate cause. Some only have actual causes. Either way, a defendant may be liable for damages.

 Determining whether a cause is proximate sometimes requires the but-for test. The but-for test asks what would have happened if the defendant had not committed the tort in question. It asks whether the injuries or damages in question would not have happened but for the defendant’s tort. If the foreseeably would not have happened, the defendant’s tort would be the proximate cause of the damages. If the plaintiff likely would have suffered the same damages regardless of the defendant’s tort, the tort would not be the proximate cause.

How Do You Prove Proximate Cause?

 Most personal injury claims in Texas require the plaintiff to prove the defendant’s breach of duty was both the actual and proximate cause of the damages claimed. The plaintiff’s lawyer must establish through a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant’s actions catalyzed a chain of events that reasonably and foreseeably would have caused the plaintiff’s injuries. The evidence available to prove a defendant’s fault could include photographs, videos, police reports, medical records, witness accounts, crash reconstruction and expert testimony.

 A common issue related to the proximate cause is two or more issues operating concurrently to produce a victim’s losses. For example, if a victim had a pre-existing injury from a sports incident and gets into a car crash, the pre-existing injury could be the actual cause of the damages in question. If the plaintiff can establish the defendant’s actions were the proximate cause of the accident, however, the defendant could still be liable, even if a pre-existing injury contributed to the extent of the damages claimed.

 Proving proximate cause often takes proving the defendant’s majority share of fault for the accident. Otherwise, the defendant could use the comparative negligence defense to avoid paying the plaintiff. The comparative negligence defense alleges the plaintiff contributed to the accident. In Texas, if a defendant proves a plaintiff is more than 50% at fault for the accident or injury in question, the plaintiff will lose all right to financial compensation. Otherwise, a lesser percentage of fault would reduce the plaintiff’s financial award proportionately. An accident victim must hire a lawyer to help him or her establish proximate cause and combat the comparative negligence defense in Texas. A lawyer can increase the odds of obtaining maximum compensation.