Proximate cause

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In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law, cause-in-fact and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the "but-for" test: but for the action, the result would not have happened. For example, but for running the red light, the collision would not have occurred. For an act to cause a harm, both tests must be met; proximate cause is a legal limitation on cause-in-fact.


But for test

A few circumstances exist where the but for test is ineffective. The primary examples are:

  • Concurrent causes. Where two separate acts of negligence combine to cause an injury to a third party, each actor is liable, even though the injury would not have happened but for the negligence of the other actor. For example, a construction worker negligently leaves the cover off a manhole, and a careless driver negligently clips a pedestrian, forcing the pedestrian to fall into the open manhole. Both the construction worker and the careless driver are equally liable for the injury to the pedestrian.
  • Sufficient combined causes. Where an injury results from two separate acts of negligence, either of which would have been sufficient to cause the injury, both actors are liable. For example, two campers in different parts of the woods negligently leave their campfires unattended. A forest fire results, but the same amount of property damage would have resulted from either fire. Both campers are equally liable for all damage. A famous case establishing this principle in the United States is Corey v. Havener.[1]
  • In the United States, the rule of Summers v. Tice holds that where two parties are equally negligent, but only one causes an injury to a third party, the burden shifts to the negligent parties to prove that they were not the cause of the injury. In that case, two hunters negligently fired their shotguns in the direction of their guide, and a pellet lodged in his eye. Because it was impossible to tell which hunter fired the shot that caused the injury, the court held both hunters liable.[2]
  • Market share evidence.[3]

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