Explaining causation to a jury is not easy. In some cases causation may be very simple. In an auto collision case if a person hits his head on a steering wheel and passes out, the brain damage is easy to link to the crash. However in other cases explaining causation becomes tougher. There are varied causal chains: temporal (time) chains, opportunity chains and unfolding causal chains.
Explaining Causation Through Time or Opportunity Chain
The time chain occurs when events take place in order of time. For instance, the example of the car crash given above is an example of a time chain where an event occurs and there is injury that occurs right away.
In an opportunity chain there may be one or more prior events that make later events possible. For instance,, if a builder fails to protect a work site and a driver blacks out and crashes into the work area then what is the cause of the resulting damage? In that type of instance, people look at the event that is closest in time to the injury as being the most likely cause. In this case it would be the black out. But did the failure to protect the jobsite also cause the injury to workers on the jobsite? Probably it did. Call, or contact us for a free consult.
Unfolding Causal Chain
In an unfolding causal chain you have an instance where prior events in the chain cause later events that produce the outcome. For instance, if debris is left on an airport runway and as a result of that a plane that is taking off has a tire puncture and then crashes, is the debris the cause of the crash? Or is the fact that the tire was not properly made the cause of the crash?
Explaining Causation Based On What Can Be Foreseen
Another way of explaining causation is to look at it from the point of view of what can be foreseen. That is, was the outcome or some like outcome able to be foreseen? The more likely it was to be foreseen then the more likely it will be a cause.
Another way to explain cause is to deal with the simple term of “proximate cause”(legal cause). The word “proximate” means near as opposed to remote. As such a proximate cause is a near cause as opposed to a remote cause. The more remote the cause is, either in terms of time or chain of events, then the less likely it is to be deemed to be the proximate cause. The concept of proximate cause is separate from the factual cause (cause in fact). A cause in fact of my having a car crash today was the fact that I got out of bed this morning. However that is not a legal cause because it is too remote.
Another Example of Remoteness
Take another case of remoteness. I throw a ball across the street to one of my children. I expect the child is going to catch the ball. He does not. The ball goes through the window of my next door neighbor’s house and passes through the entire house and out the back window. It then knocks over an outdoor grill that is on their back porch causing it to roll down the hill. The grill hits and kills the neighbor at the bottom of the hill. My fault in throwing the ball too hard was not the legal cause of that neighbor’s death. It is simply too remote. If on the other hand the ball goes through the front window of my neighbor’s home and strikes the neighbor standing next to the window then that is a proximate (legal) cause of injury to that neighbor.
In an injury case a plaintiff may have a prior condition. The prior condition is not a cause of the injury that the plaintiff suffers from now. The prior injury is not something for which the plaintiff may expect to be paid in the injury lawsuit. What the plaintiff can expect to be paid for is the injury or damage to the extent the prior condition was made worse.
Proof of damages can also be complex due to a later injury. For instance, you are injured on January 1 and then suffer another injury on June 1. Both injuries involve the same body parts. How are the damages allotted to the two? That becomes a tough question. If the second injury is minor and only caused a slight increase in your symptoms then the two can be dealt with to separate the true cause of your current condition from the enhanced symptoms.
Cause can also be an issue where there is a so-called superseding cause. Such a cause is one that is not able to be foreseen. For instance, you are in a car and the driver runs a red light and at the same time a tree falls on the car and injures you. What is the cause of your injury? Is it the running of the red light or is it the tree falling? The tree falling in that case would be a superseding cause. The tree falling is most likely an act of God. Therefore it may be tough to prove the fault of your driver in running the red light was in fact the cause of your injury. Call, or contact us for a free consult.
Explaining Causation Based on Sufficient Cause
In a decision from the Virginia Supreme Court, the Court dealt with how proximate cause is defined. The case involved injury from asbestos. The trial judge had told the jury they could find against the parties being sued if their products were a substantial contributing factor in causing harm to the victims. The Supreme Court rejected that. The proper standard the court said is that the product exposure must have been “a” sufficient cause of the injury.
More Than One Cause
There could be more than one sufficient cause of an injury. If that is the case however then each of those causes must have been enough to cause the injury.