Breaking the Chain of Causation

In Arizona, a motor vehicle accident negligence claim — same as any other negligence claim brought pursuant to personal injury law — must satisfy certain elements.

More specifically, if you have suffered an injury due to the fault of another, in order to successfully recover damages in an Arizona court, you must prove that: a) you were injured; b) the defendant was negligent; and c) the defendant’s negligence caused your injuries.  Only once all these elements have been satisfied will you receive compensation for your injuries in a court of law.

Have you been injured due to the negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct of another person or entity?  Arizona law may give you the right to litigate your claims and receive compensation.  Injury claims do not last forever, so make sure to get connected to an experienced Arizona personal injury attorney as soon as possible, before your claims expire.

Causation is therefore a critical aspect of personal injury litigation.  To put it in very simple terms: you cannot hold a defendant liable for your injuries unless the defendant’s negligent acts actually “caused” your injuries.

Not all cases are simple, however, and oftentimes, the defendant will use muddy, complicated circumstances to argue that they are not responsible for your injuries.  They will claim that there was some intervening cause that actually led to your injuries.  When the “chain of causation” is broken by an intervening cause, then the defendant may avoid liability.

Let’s take a look at how the chain of causation works, and when it breaks due to an intervening cause.

The Chain of Causation

Chain of causation terminology may seem unfamiliar and overly complicated to many, but it’s actually rather straightforward.  The “chain of legal causation” is essentially an unbroken linkage of cause and effect.  When you turn a glass of water onto its side, the liquid that fills the glass will pour out onto the ground (unless there is some occurrence that interferes with the expected action).  This cause-and-effect link is tightly bound to the nature of the objects involved.

In a great deal of personal injury litigation, however, the cause-and-effect link is not always clear.  If the defendant is speeding on the highway, is it reasonable to associate an unlikely consequence — perhaps a frightened driver swerving around and losing control over their own vehicle — with the negligent actions (speeding) of the defendant?

If the causal link (i.e., the chain of causation) has been severed between the defendant’s actions and the consequences thereof, then the defendant cannot be held liable.  Whether the causal link has been severed depends on foreseeability, however.

Foreseeability and Liability

The chain of causation is broken when an intervening cause (otherwise known as a “superseding cause”) severs the link between cause-and-effect.  This can only occur when the intervening cause is unforeseeable, however.  If the intervening cause is reasonably foreseeable given the circumstances, then the defendant can be held liable.

As this can all be rather confusing, consider the following example for clarification.

Imagine that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident at a traffic light.  The defendant is speeding and driving while distracted.  They rear-end you, forcing your car into moving traffic at the intersection, and your car is sideswiped by a different vehicle.  As a result, you are seriously injured.

Now, the defendant cannot argue that the result was unforeseeable, despite the fact that the more serious sideswipe collision could be seen as an intervening cause.  Why?  The sideswipe collision would likely be deemed reasonably foreseeable.  Though the defendant-driver who rear-ended you may not have known exactly what would happen when they collided with the back of your car, they should have reasonably known that they were exposing you to a heightened risk of danger by forcing your car into an active intersection.

Alternatively, if you are pushed into the intersection and an “Act of God” occurs — something so unexpected that it is simply unforeseeable, such as a large tree branch breaking off and slamming into your car in the intersection — then you cannot necessarily hold the defendant-driver liable for the injuries caused by the tree branch, as they could not reasonably foresee that rear-ending you would put you in a position where you were vulnerable to a tree branch falling on your vehicle.  Of course, it’s worth noting that you would still be able to sue and recover damages from the defendant-driver for losses directly attributable by the rear-end collision.

Contact Hirsch & Lyon today for help with your case.