If you have been searching the web for answers about how to prove negligence, you will have likely come across the element of “causation.”  Causation is much more than the common definition encompassing the “cause” of something.  In the legal world, causation has many subparts and exceptions, making it a thorny element to establish when a plaintiff wishes to bring a negligence action.  Below is a deeper look into the meaning of “causation” in the law.

What is Causation?

What is Causation?

“Causation” is an element central to all causes of action in tort law. It links an act or omission by a defendant and the damages (or injuries) suffered by a plaintiff. In a tort action, a plaintiff must prove the element of causation by establishing that the defendant’s actions directly and proximately caused the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. 

Causation contains two prongs known as “cause in fact” and “proximate cause.” First, “cause in fact” means that the defendant’s injuries actually resulted in injury or damages to the plaintiff. Second, “proximate cause” means the defendant’s actions or omissions foreseeably led to the plaintiff’s injuries or damages. Both tests assume that there is no legal factor relieving the defendant of liability for the harm caused to the plaintiff. 

What Tests Are Used to Determine Causation?

There are two common conceptual tests used by the courts to determine if the plaintiff has established the element of causation. First, the “but for” test is concerned with whether the defendant’s actually caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Alternatively, the substantial factor test analyzes whether the defendant’s negligent conduct was a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s resulting injuries. Again, these tests are used after it has been determined that there is no legal factor relieving the defendant of liability. 

The most common way to establish causation is through the application of the but-for test. This test looks at whether the plaintiff’s injuries would have happened “but for” the defendant’s conduct.

Alternatively, the substantial factor test may be used to establish the element of factual causation.  Both the substantial factor and but-for tests typically have the same result. Under the substantial factor test, the jury determines whether the defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm. The substantial factor test may be preferred in cases where there are multiple defendants or when there were concurrent causes of an injury. 

May Other Tests Be Used To Establish Causation?

Yes, other tests can be used to establish causation where the but-for and substantial factor tests fall short.  Two of the most common tests are the foreseeability and remoteness tests. 

Under the foreseeability test, a jury must determine if it was foreseeable that the defendant’s acts or omissions would result in the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, if A is speeding in a quiet neighborhood and hits and injures B, the jury would likely determine if it was foreseeable that A’s speeding would result in B’s injuries as presented in the facts. 

The remoteness test is useful where proximate cause is not easily determined. Remoteness contemplates whether the injury was too remote even if there is a factual link between the defendant’s actions and the plaintiff’s injuries. For example, assume Dr. A changes the medications of psychiatric patient B.  Dr. A is aware at the time of changing B’s medications that B has violent propensities as a result of his psychiatric conditions.  Decades later, Patient B injures C. While it is likely that Dr. A’s actions may have affected B upon changing B’s medications, it is unlikely that C will be able to recover from Dr. A because Dr. A’s actions were too remote from C’s injuries. 

What Else Do I Need To Win a Tort Action?

Causation is just one element necessary to win a tort action.A plaintiff must additionally prove that there was (1) a duty of care, (2) a breach, and (3) damages or injury.  Causation is simply the connecting piece between the plaintiff’s damages and the tortious actions or omissions propounded by the defendant. To determine if you have a possible tort claim, contact the attorneys at Hawk Law Group for a consultation.