What Is Intervening Cause in Personal Injury?

Accidents are rarely simple events, especially where personal injury is concerned. There will nearly always be factors that complicate the matter of who is responsible for your injury. While one person’s negligence may have in some way caused the accident, there may be other factors at play that could help them avoid liability. These are referred to as intervening causes.

Intervening Cause and Liability

An intervening cause is any event in an accident that occurred after the actions of the defendant (i.e. the person being sued) and contributed to the injury of the plaintiff. In some cases, this may remove liability from the defendant, but the event has to meet certain requirements.

The key requirement is unforeseeability. If the event and its results couldn’t have been foreseen, then it is considered a superseding cause, which would render the defendant non-liable. However, if either the event itself or the injury it caused could have been reasonably foreseen, then it doesn’t count. The defendant would still likely be to blame for the incident.

Example of Intervening Cause

For instance, take a vehicle accident. Suppose Sally is driving in town and is T-boned by George, who is driving a truck. George, who was on his phone at the time, was distracted as he was going through an intersection and ended up running a red light as Sally was heading through. Without any other factors, George would very likely be the one at fault for the accident.

Now, suppose George managed to slam on his brakes, minimizing the impact. Sally suffered minor whiplash from that collision but was instead driven out of her lane into oncoming traffic. She suffers severe injuries as she makes an impact with Karen in a minivan. In this instance, George might try to avoid liability by claiming Sally’s injuries resulted from her impact with Karen, but since that was a reasonably foreseeable result of George’s negligence, he would likely still be held responsible.

When Intervening Cause Becomes Superseding Cause

However, suppose Sally managed to maintain control of her vehicle after being struck by George’s truck, but only after getting her gas line scratched open by running over a curb. As she continues driving, a random pedestrian tosses a spent cigarette butt into the road, igniting the trail of gas Sally is leaving behind her. Her gas tank explodes, causing severe burns and lacerations.

In this last instance, George may still be liable for minor neck pain, but since no one could have anticipated the ensuing explosion, he might not be held responsible for Sally’s more severe injuries.

Winning Complex Personal Injury Cases

In the last example, of course, it could be argued that it was absolutely foreseeable that the explosion would cause Sally injury, but the odds of that explosion occurring in the first place were too slim to be foreseeable in and of itself. Either way, it’s often the party with the best lawyer who wins. Contacting a personal injury attorney such as Hart David Carson LLP can give plaintiffs the edge they need to succeed in these complicated cases.

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