What Is Foreseeability and Proximate Cause in an Injury Case?
To qualify for financial recovery in a personal injury case, the plaintiff must prove the defendant’s negligence. “Negligence” can refer to any action or behavior that falls outside of the defendant’s realm of duty of care to the plaintiff. Failure to act to prevent a foreseeable risk of harm is a form of negligence. The plaintiff also bears the burden to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the proximate cause of injuries. Learn more about foreseeability and proximate cause to know how to strengthen your case as a plaintiff in Georgia.
How Do the Courts Judge Foreseeability?
Foreseeability refers to the predictability of an accident or injury. For example, it is reasonably foreseeable that drinking alcohol before driving will impair the driver and increase the risk of a crash. The foreseeability test asks whether the defendant should have reasonably foreseen the consequences that would result from his or her conduct. What is foreseeable can vary depending on the circumstances.
To answer the question of foreseeability, the courts will often hear expert testimony to decide if a “reasonable and prudent” person would have been able to foresee the risk of harm. A commercial truck with a bald tire is an example of something that presents a foreseeable risk of harm – in this case, the foreseeable harm being a tire blowout and truck accident. It is up to the defendant to take steps to prevent the foreseeable risk.
What Is Proximate Cause?
The proximate cause, or “legal cause,” of an accident is the event related enough to the injury that it is reasonable for the courts to deem it as the cause. The courts often use the “but for” test to determine the proximate cause. In other words, the injury would not have happened but for the proximate cause. The proximate cause does not necessarily have to be the main condition of the event, but rather the event that most likely caused the injuries.
For example, in a case where a driver runs a red light and collides with another driver, the main event would be the driver running the red light. If the victim suffered a back injury because of a defective airbag, however, the proximate cause of injury could be the airbag and not the driver running the red light. Determining the proximate cause of an accident often takes a thorough investigation, eyewitness interviews, and expert testimony.
The Relationship Between Foreseeability and Proximate Cause
Foreseeability and proximate cause go hand in hand. The foreseeability of a personal injury is the leading test the courts use to determine proximate cause in an accident case. Foreseeability asks if the defendant could have or should have predicted that the proximate cause could have resulted in injury. The law under the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the scope of liability in most personal injury claims bases upon the foreseeability of the type and manner of the harm, but not the extent of harm.
In some cases, an unforeseeable superseding cause results in the plaintiff’s injuries. In these cases, the defendant likely would not be liable since he or she reasonably could not have predicted the unlikely superseding cause. Superseding causes that typically will not come down to defendant negligence include acts of God, criminal acts by third parties, and intentional wrongdoing. Foreseeable superseding causes of injuries also exit, such as a doctor’s negligence.
Regardless of whether the extent of harm is foreseeable, the courts will hold the defendant liable for the plaintiff’s actual damages. The “eggshell skull” rule holds that a plaintiff deserves compensation or the full extent of harm, even if the plaintiff suffered more severe harm than the average person would have in the same circumstances. Just because a defendant could not have foreseen the extent of harm does not protect him or her from liability for the plaintiff’s full damages.
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