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Personal injury and wrongful death claims are most often brought under a legal theory known as negligence. To prove a negligent tort, several elements must be proven, including the existence of a duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff, and the breach of that duty. The breach of duty must be the cause of the plaintiff injuries, and the plaintiff must have suffered injuries that are legally recognizable as compensable damages.
The issue of cause, or causation, is not as simple as it may seem. There are actually two aspects of cause, which are known as cause in fact and proximate, or legal, cause. Cause in fact simply means that the accident would not have occurred except for the fact of the defendant’s negligence. Although this may seem fairly straightforward, there are many instances where the issue of cause in fact can be quite complicated. For instance, in a medical malpractice case, expert testimony may be necessary to show how a medical error resulted in a particular injury or medical condition.
The other aspect of causation – proximate or legal cause – can be even trickier to prove. Sometimes many events occur in the course of an accident, and the defendants may claim that their actions were not the ones that caused the accident, but that other factors intervened or superseded their actions. For instance, if you swerve to avoid a car that runs a red light in an intersection, and you swerve into another car which was recklessly passing you on the right, or you hit a piece of concrete that was dropped from a construction site and not cleared away, who is responsible for the accident? Are both potential defendants responsible, or does the action of one cancel out the action of the other?
Both cause in fact and proximate cause can create complicated issues for the plaintiff to prove, but proving these elements can be a critical component of your personal injury or wrongful death case. Whether you are dealing with an automobile accident, construction accident, medical malpractice or other case of negligence, document what happened as clearly and completely as you can, and then contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you determine the proper responsible party or parties from a legal perspective. In New York City, contact Leandros A. Vrionedes, P.C. for a free consultation.