What Is the Difference Between Actual and Proximate Cause?

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If you’re injured in an accident that was caused by someone else in Omaha, Nebraska, you may be able to recover financial compensation for your medical bills, property repairs, and other losses. As the filing party, or plaintiff, however, it is your responsibility to prove the elements of your case as more likely to be true than not true. One of these elements is causation.

Elements of Proof in a Personal Injury Case in Nebraska

A civil case aims to hold one or more parties legally and financially responsible, or liable, for an accident, injury, illness, or wrongful death. In the civil justice system, it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove that what he or she is claiming is more likely to be true than not true.

This is the burden of proof known as a preponderance of the evidence. Almost all personal injury cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence is when someone does not use enough care, causing injury or harm to another person.

Negligence consists of four elements:

  1. Duty of care: A legal obligation to exercise reasonable care.
  2. Breach of duty: Any action or omission that violates the accepted requirement of care.
  3. Causation: A provable link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the accident.
  4. Damages: Losses suffered by the victim because of the defendant’s careless or reckless acts.

Causation is one of the key elements of a personal injury case. As a plaintiff in Nebraska, it is important to understand causation. It is the main reason why the accident or injury in question took place. Determining causation often uses the “but for” test – the plaintiff must prove that his or her injuries would not exist but for the defendant’s negligence.

Actual vs. Proximate Cause

The actual cause is also known as “cause in fact.” The actual cause is relatively straightforward. It is what actually caused the victim’s injuries or losses. For example, in a case where a vehicle strikes a pedestrian, the motor vehicle driver’s actions are the actual cause of the accident. The actual cause, however, may not be the legal cause. The person behind the actual cause might not be the liable party in a personal injury case.

Proximate cause is the legal cause of an injury. It determines liability. Proximate cause may not be the final event before an injury took place, and it may not be the first event that set off a chain reaction. Instead, it is the cause that produced a foreseeable reaction, and the one but for which the injury or harm in question would not have happened.

In many cases, it is required to prove that the defendant’s negligence was both the actual and proximate cause of the injury. In other states, proof of substantial cause is enough.

In the pedestrian accident example mentioned above, the actual cause of the injury might have been the motor vehicle driver’s actions, but if a defective tire blew out and this propelled the vehicle into the pedestrian, the tire blowout would be the proximate cause of the injury. This would make the manufacturer of the defective tire liable for the accident rather than the driver that struck the pedestrian.

How to Prove Causation in a Personal Injury Case

To hold one or more parties liable for your accident or injury in Nebraska, you or your Omaha personal injury lawyer must provide proof of proximate cause in connection to the defendant(s). You will need to present evidence to demonstrate that the defendant’s action or failure to act was the legal cause of your accident or injury; in other words, that your injury would not have happened but for the defendant’s negligence.

The evidence available to prove causation may include accident reports, medical records, photographs, and witness testimony. An attorney can help you meet the burden of proof by collecting evidence of proximate cause.