How Does Causation Work in Personal Injury Cases?

Personal Injury

Suing for personal injury damages is only possible if you can establish causation. You must be able to demonstrate that the defendant in some way caused your injury through their reckless or negligent actions.

Components of Negligence

Causation is one of the components of negligence, in addition to the duty of care and breach of duty. If there is no negligence involved in the accident, then you have no case.

Duty of Care

To prove negligence, you must first establish that the defendant—i.e. the person you’re suing—had a duty of care toward you. In the case of a car accident, for example, all drivers owe a duty of care toward others on the road. Their duty is to drive safely and avoid reckless behavior.

Breach of Duty

Once the defendant’s duty of care has been established, you need to demonstrate that they breached that duty. In the instance of a vehicle accident, that could mean speeding, running a red light, driving while texting, or any other unsafe conduct.


A breach of duty has no real bearing on an accident unless it actually caused the injury. In a vehicle accident, this is often simple to establish once you know who’s at fault and why the accident occurred. However, the matter of fault may not always be clear-cut, such as if multiple vehicles were involved or if there were mitigating factors (weather, low visibility, etc.).

Actual Cause and Proximate Cause

When establishing causation in a personal injury case, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are two ways to classify cause. These are actual causes and proximate causes. Your lawyer will usually look at both when evaluating the viability of your case.

Actual Cause

Actual cause is where the responsible party’s actions directly caused your injury. For instance, if you slip and fall due to a spill at your local grocery store, the actions that caused your accident might be the owner’s failure to put up a sign or clean up the spill. A drunk driver’s decision to operate a vehicle while intoxicated could result in an accident that would have otherwise been avoidable.

When establishing actual cause, Illinois uses a “but-for” test. In other words, but for the defendant’s actions, would the resulting harm have occurred? For example, but for the other driver’s drinking, would the accident have occurred? If not, then they are considered to have caused the accident.

Proximate Cause

Proximate cause—also known as the legal cause—is just as important as actual cause, if not more so. Proximate cause means the defendant’s actions not only caused your injury but that your injury would have been a foreseeable result. For example, serious injury is a foreseeable result of driving while intoxicated, meaning there is proximate cause in the event of a drunk driving accident.

On the other hand, if no one could have foreseen that their actions would cause an injury, then there is no legal cause and therefore no case.

Proving Causation in a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Proving causation in a personal injury case isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often highly complex. It’s vital to have a competent personal injury attorney on your side in the event that you are injured in an accident. If you have been injured through another party’s negligence, contact an attorney as soon as possible.

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