What is proximate cause?
A person seeking compensation for a personal injury must prove that the wrongdoer was the proximate cause of those injuries. Causation is determined by the chain of events leading up to the injury.
Here’s the catch: not all causes of an injury will be the proximate or legal cause.
To hold someone liable for injuring another, the injuries suffered must have been of a type that could have been reasonably anticipated as a result of the wrongdoer’s actions. In other words, would the injury have occurred if the wrongdoer hadn’t done what they did? If the answer is no, you may be on your way to a successful personal injury claim.
Liability for personal injury in Colorado
Liability is established by proving the accused person was negligent and the negligent action or inaction caused injuries to someone else. The law imposes certain duties on most people to act reasonably in given situations in order to prevent harm from coming to others.
When people are harmed due to the unreasonable behavior of others, the law says the wrongdoers have acted negligently. However, negligence alone does not establish a person’s liability for injuries to another. The negligence must also have legally caused the claimed injuries.
Determining actual cause
The first step in determining causation is to show the connection between the wrongdoer’s behavior and the claimed injuries. The Colorado jury instructions on negligence instruct jurors to find causation when the claimed injuries follow the ‘natural and probable sequence’ of the wrongdoer’s actions or inactions.
The actions or inactions of the wrongdoer must be such that the injuries would not have happened ‘but for’ the wrongdoer’s behavior.
Injuries must be foreseeable
The actual cause is not necessarily the proximate cause. In order to hold someone legally responsible for injuring another, the wrongdoer must be found to have been aware that what was being done might cause injury to others.
A wrongdoer’s actual awareness under the circumstances is not relevant. Whether a wrongdoer should have foreseen the consequences of his actions is measured against what a ‘reasonably careful person’ would have done in the same situation. If a reasonably careful person would have foreseen the danger, it was foreseeable.
Intervening causes and proximate cause
There may be more than one cause of an injury accident. What makes legal liability attach is the foreseeability of injury. Any person who should have foreseen their behavior could cause harm can be a proximate cause if someone gets injured as a result.
However, when two or more causes combine to produce injury and one of the causes was not reasonably foreseeable under the circumstances, the unforeseeable cause will be found to have intervened in the chain of causation and will relieve other precipitating causes of legal responsibility.
An intervening cause contributes significantly to the claimed injuries and is too remote or extraordinary to be foreseeable. The following situation is an example of an intervening cause.
- An ambulance responding to a car accident is transporting an injured person to the hospital when a bridge collapses, sending the ambulance into a river and killing the person injured in the car accident.
It is unlikely the collapse of a bridge would be foreseeable for any of the drivers involved in the original accident so their actions would not be a proximate cause of the injuries.
Proximate cause in premises liability claims
Determining the proximate cause can look a little different when injuries occur on the premises of others due to the actions of third parties. Premises liability is based on a landowner’s responsibility to provide a reasonably safe experience for authorized visitors. The issue with regard to proximate cause arises when a visitor’s injuries are caused by a third party not affiliated with the landowner.
A Colorado landowner can avoid responsibility for intentional injuries caused by a third party under the ‘predominant cause’ doctrine. The predominant cause doctrine applies when the third party’s actions, not those of the landowner, are the predominant and, therefore, the proximate cause of the injuries.
After a recent Colorado Supreme Court ruling suggested a landowner’s foreseeability of the harm could be considered before the actions of the third party when determining causation, the Colorado Legislature made it clear that the actions of third parties are to be considered before those of the landowner.
Landowners are only responsible for injuries caused by third parties when they fail to warn of dangers not ordinarily present that they actually know about.
Where to get help proving proximate cause
Determining legal causation in order to prove a personal injury claim is usually a question of fact. And using the facts in a particular situation to advocate the best interests of clients is how good lawyers get successful results.
When you’ve been injured in an accident and need to prove a negligence claim, you want to work with someone who not only knows the laws but also has the experience and track record that can help you win.
At Zaner Harden Law, we have the reputation of being tough litigators who get big results for our clients. We are a dedicated team of legal professionals who are committed to assisting injured persons across the Centennial State. Our Colorado personal injury attorneys have been recognized for their innovative litigation strategies and the results they have been able to achieve on behalf of clients.
Contact our Denver Personal Injury Law Firm Today For Help