Cause-in-Fact Requirements of a Negligence Lawsuit

To bring a negligence lawsuit, the plaintiff must provide evidence to show, among other things, that the defendant’s actions caused the injury in question. Causation has two components, cause-in-fact and proximate cause. Cause-in-fact is the actual event that caused the harm. Proximate cause refers to the legal cause. The proximate cause element requires that the injury must have been a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant’s conduct. That is, a reasonably prudent person would expect the outcome that has resulted in harm or injuries. Here we focus on the discussion of proximate cause, which is more difficult to establish than cause-in-fact in most cases.

Courts often use the well-established foreseeability test to determine proximate cause. The test looks at whether the harm resulting from an action could be predicted by a reasonable prudent person. If a reasonable person could have predicted harm or injuries, then the injuries are foreseeable and defendant’s actions is the proximate cause of the injuries and therefore should be liable. For example, it is foreseeable that throwing a baseball at someone could cause him head injuries; it is also foreseeable that having an open flame near gasoline could cause an explosion.

In a recent case from the Court of Appeals of the Fifth Circuit, the court applied the foreseeability test to determine proximate cause. The plaintiffs brought a negligence claim under Louisiana law, alleging that the defendants’ negligence in attempting to extinguish fire ultimately caused the oil spill and plaintiff’s resulting damages. The court affirmed the decision of the lower court and concluded that the damages are too attenuated and distant from the defendants’ actions. Essentially, the court was saying that the plaintiff failed to state a plausible cause of foreseeability as required for proximate cause. The court agreed with the analyses of the district court, which stated that “in order for the defendants to foresee such result, they would have had to have anticipated that spraying water on the mobile offshore unit would cause the vessel to capsize and the connecting pipe to collapse, and the blowout preventer would not control the flow of hydrocarbons, and the discharge would flow abated for three months, and that the oil would flow fifty miles inland.” Each one of those specific event or coincidence must occur for the defendant’s injuries to result from them and the whole situation could not be predicted by a reasonable person.

The above case gives an example of when the plaintiff fails to satisfy the foreseeability test. As you can tell by the complexity of the negligence cases, it takes an experienced lawyer to navigate the elements of negligence claims, especially the proximate cause. Our legal professionals look forward to helping you.

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