A Brief Explanation of Proximate Cause.

Personal Injury

In any basic personal injury action, it is necessary to prove 4 things:

  1. duty
  2. breach
  3. proximate cause (or causation), and
  4. damages

Proving all four of these elements is essential for establishing liability and obtaining an award (compensation) for the injured party.

In today’s post, we are going to take a look at proximate cause: what it is, and how to prove it.

Causation and Damages

In a personal injury action, it is necessary to prove that the defendant (i.e., the wrongdoer) did (or failed to do) something that caused the plaintiff’s (the victim) injuries.


Because if the defendant’s action did not cause the plaintiff’s harm, then it is not fair to hold the defendant accountable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Makes sense, right?


But in law, things generally are more complicated than that.

Which in this case means that “cause” has more than one meaning in law.

There is in the legal sense what is called the “actual cause” or “cause in fact” of a plaintiff’s harm.

And then there is the “proximate cause” of a plaintiff’s harm.

Cause in Fact

Part of proving negligence requires proving both the actual cause of the accident and the proximate cause of the accident.

The actual cause, or cause in fact is the direct cause of the accident. For example, this could be simply that defendant’s car hit the plaintiff’s car.

So What is Proximate Cause?

But now let’s consider a different type of cause. What if the car that hit the plaintiff’s car (the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injuries) was the fourth car in a five-car pile-up. Or, what if the reason the car hit the plaintiff’s car is because the driver was swerving to avoid hitting a pedestrian who was illegally jaywalking. What then?

That is why the law also considers “proximate cause.”

Proximate cause takes into account concepts of foreseeability. It is often described as a natural, direct, and uninterrupted consequence, without which, the plaintiff would not have been injured.

Because the “proximate cause” does not necessarily have to be the closest event that happened (consider the 5-car pileup, and pedestrian examples above), it can be quite difficult to prove the proximate cause of an accident/incident.

To figure it out, some courts use a “but for” test. When considering what was the proximate cause of the accident, the court will ask whether the accident would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s negligence.

Other courts use a different approach. They consider whether the defendant’s action (or inaction) was a “substantial factor” in causing the plaintiff’s harm.

Whichever test is used, however, in order to recover for his or her injuries, a plaintiff must prove that it was the defendant’s negligent actions (or inactions) and not something else, that proximately caused his injuries.

Personal Injury Attorneys in Cumming, Georgia. 

The personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C., are here to help you. We serve clients in Atlanta, and in several counties throughout Georgia, including: Clayton County, Cobb County, Dekalb County, Douglas County, Fulton County, and Paulding County, among others. To find out how we can help you, call us at: 770-888-7707. Or contact us here.

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The 2 Types of Torts in a Personal Injury Case.
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