What Is the Difference Between Actual and Proximate Cause?

February 19, 2021

If someone else’s actions injured you, you have the right to file a personal injury claim against him or her for your damages. Successfully securing compensation in a California personal injury lawsuit can be complex; you will need to prove that the defendant breached a duty of care, and that his or her negligence caused your injuries. Specifically, you will need to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the actual and proximate cause of your injuries.

Proving a Personal Injury Claim in California

To understand the difference between actual and proximate cause, it is important to understand how courts make their decisions in personal injury claims. A court will award compensation to you if you can establish the defendant’s negligence. To prove negligence, you will need to gather clear evidence to prove four key elements.

  • Duty: The defendant owed you a duty of care at the time of the accident. For example, drivers owe a duty to follow traffic laws while property owners have a duty to keep their premises safe.
  • Dereliction: The defendant breached his or her duty of care through a negligent act or failure to act. This dereliction will vary depending on the type of personal injury claim you file.
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty caused your injuries. This is the element that concerns actual and proximate cause and varies depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident.
  • Damages: You suffered damages due to the accident that you can collect in your lawsuit. These damages can be economic, such as medical bills or lost wages, or non-economic, also known as pain and suffering.

Actual Cause versus Proximate Cause

Actual cause refers to the factual event that caused your accident. Also known as cause in fact, this type of cause is very straightforward. For example, if you are driving through an intersection and a driver fails to stop at a stop sign and strikes your vehicle, his or her actions would constitute the actual cause of your injuries. It is the primary cause of the accident regardless of how you examine the accident.

Proximate cause refers to any action that the court recognizes as the primary cause of your accident. You must prove that, if the action had not occurred, you would have not suffered the injuries you are claiming compensation for. The action in question may not be the first event that contributed to the accident or even the last event in a chain reaction. You must prove that the accident produced consequences that are foreseeable, and no one but the defendant is responsible.

For example, say you are in a car accident after one driver rear-ends the vehicle behind you, who then crashes into your car. If the first driver had not collided with the driver behind you, the accident would not have occurred, and you would have not experienced injuries. In this situation, the first driver’s actions would constitute proximate cause.

Work With A Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

Proving actual and proximate cause can be difficult, especially if your case involves unclear or complex liability. You will need to understand the law, gather clear evidence, and craft compelling arguments to prove both types of causes in order to win your claim—and hiring a skilled attorney can help.

Working with an injury attorney at Estey & Bomberger will provide the knowledge, skills, and experience to help you prove actual and proximate cause after your accident. If you have not done so already, contact a California personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.