In the last Torts session, we looked at the res ipsa loquitur test for breach of duty. Now we move away from breach of duty and look at the next element, causation.
There are two types of causation, cause in fact (actual cause) and proximate (legal cause). Here is a quick summary:
Cause in Fact (Actual Cause): Actual cause is only concerned with WHETHER the plaintiff's injury resulted from the defendant's conduct. P's harm must have the required nexus to D's breach of duty. Actual cause is established if the D's act was either a but-for cause or a substantial factor of the injury.
Under the “but-for” test, plaintiff must prove that “but-for” the defendant’s act, plaintiff would not have been injured. Under the substantial factor test, plaintiff need only prove that defendant’s act was a substantial or a material factor which caused plaintiff’s injury. If there is but one cause of plaintiff’s injury apply the “but-for” test. If there's more than one cause, apply the “substantial factor” test.
Proximate Cause (Legal Cause): Proximate cause is always determined on the facts of each case upon mixed considerations of logic, common sense, justice, policy and precedent. Proximate cause examines HOW the plaintiff's injury resulted from the defendant's conduct. If the plaintiff's injury is sufficiently unexpected or bizarre, then the defendant is not liable – the proximate cause analysis cuts off liability. The prevailing view is whether the D should have reasonably foreseen, as a result of her conduct, the general consequences or type of harm suffered by P. In other words, proximate cause is satisfied when the plaintiff's injury is a foreseeable result of the defendant's breach and there are no superseding, intervening causes of the plaintiff's harm. Stated another way: Under proximate cause a defendant will only be liable where the injuries sustained by plaintiff were reasonably foreseeable and there were no intervening forces which might break the chain of causation.
We will expand on causation when we return to torts.
Professor Doug Holden
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