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Hello, I’m attorney Kyle Bachus. The legal world is full of overly complicated jargon and terminology that can be intimidating if you don’t know what it means. In my law 101 video series, I’m breaking down some commonly used legal terms so you can be informed and confident should you ever need to take legal action.

In this episode of law 101, we’re going to break down the term legal causation.

This is important because, in some of our other videos, we talked about the tort of negligence, and we talked about the burden of proof. In order to be able to demonstrate that the tort of negligence has been committed, as discussed in some of our other videos, you have to be able to demonstrate that the unreasonable conduct of the person who you’re bringing a claim against actually caused the injuries that you are trying to recover for. This may seem simple, but in many cases, it’s not a simple concept.

And that’s because, let’s say that somebody is involved in an injury, but they already had a pre-existing low back problem. And let’s say that in the injury caused by this alleged tort, that the injuries to the same body part, it’s to that low back, or at least one component is. Under the law, we’re only able to recover for what we can prove to our burden of proof was caused by the actions of the person we’re bringing a claim against. And so we have to get into issues of apportionment with the treating doctor.

We have to look at what was the person suffering from before, how is it different after the event or collision that we’re bringing a claim for. And so if we’re unable to demonstrate causation, there is no case. It’s a very important principle.

And if you are involved in an event that is caused by somebody else’s unreasonable conduct, and you suffer an injury, and you have questions about this causation component and whether you have the information, the proof to demonstrate what additional injury was actually caused by the at-fault person’s conduct, we’re happy to talk to you about that at Bachus & Schanker. To learn more about other law topics that can help you feel informed and confident about the law, make sure to check out more videos in this series.

Causation – FAQs

Causation is the relationship between events that took place and an accident and personal injury that ultimately resulted from those events. In other words, there is a direct relationship between an action and the effect of that action or outcome. 

Two types of causation are used in personal injury cases to prove negligence. Therefore, it is essential you have an experienced personal injury lawyer familiar with both types of causation. Otherwise, you may not have an allowable personal injury claim if you are unable to prove causation. 

Cause-in-Fact Causation

Cause-in-fact causation is also called actual cause. This component of the personal injury claim uses the “but-for” test. The test questions whether the accident and resulting injuries would have occurred “but for” the defendant’s actions. 

To better help you understand cause-in-fact, let’s look at an example. Let’s assume for a moment you are stopped at a red light, waiting for it to turn green. A car coming up quickly behind you rear-ends you and causes your injuries. 

Cause-in-fact examines what the other driver was doing that led to the rear-end collision. Now let’s assume the other driver was texting while driving and distracted, so they did not see the red light or your stopped vehicle. So, the actual cause of the accident was the driver’s negligent behavior of texting while driving. 

Applying the “but-for” test, we would ask would the accident occur but for the defendant texting while driving. As you can imagine, if the defendant had not been texting and paying attention, they would have never rear-ended you. 

However, that is insufficient to prove negligence fully. While it is clear-cut that the driver was texting when they ran into you, proximate cause must also be considered and be present. Proximate cause must also be evaluated and established because we could essentially use any such action as the actual cause of the accident.

For instance, if the driver were not driving on the same street as you were, the accident would not have occurred. We could move even further back in time and claim that the accident would not have occurred if the driver had stayed home or decided to walk instead of drive. 

Therefore, for these reasons, proximate cause is also used to prove negligence. 

Proximate Cause 

Proximate cause can be a little more difficult to establish since it is not always substantiated by an actual cause of events or actions. Going back to our example, there are numerous possibilities that could be used to establish cause-in-fact.

Proximate cause takes this a step further by examining each event and applying the “but-for” test. In addition, proximate cause uses the concept of reasonable foreseeability. 

Using our earlier example, let’s assume that when you were rear-ended, the impact caused you to let go of the brake, causing your vehicle to move into the intersection. A semi-truck swerves to avoid hitting you, and the truck driver loses control, flips his truck, and hits a utility pole, causing a power outage. 

While clearly, the defendant’s actions set off a chain reaction of events. But was this chain reaction foreseeable? When applying proximate cause, reasonable foreseeability would indicate that, indeed, texting while driving could result in hitting another vehicle. 

However, the extent to which the defendant would be held accountable for injuries and damages to the semi-truck driver, his truck, the utility pole, and the power failure would have to be further evaluated using both types of causation.  

When establishing causation, one must further look at the three stages of causation to determine the extent of negligence, as follows:

  • Absolute Causation – This stage is directly related to cause-in-fact. It means a cause is required and reasonable enough to bring about the end result. 
  • Conditional Causation – This stage is directly related to proximate cause. It implies that, while a cause is required, it may not always be sufficient to support the end result. 
  • Contributory Causation – This causation stage refers to how each party’s actions contributed to the accident and the plaintiff’s injuries. 

Causation consists of only two of the five elements required to prove negligence: cause-in-fact and proximate cause. The other three elements that must also be present in personal injury claims and lawsuits include:

  • A duty of care. A duty of care is a legal concept applied to personal injury cases. It asks whether the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. 
  • A breach of a duty of care. The next element is evaluating whether a breach of a duty of care took place by comparing whether a reasonable person would have acted in a similar manner as the defendant if they knew everything the defendant knew at the time of the accident and if they would have acted differently to provide a duty of care to the plaintiff. 
  • Actual physical damage. The plaintiff must experience a loss that can include physical injuries and property damage. 

The two elements needed to prove causation are cause-in-fact or actual cause and proximate cause. If both are not present, then causation cannot be used to prove negligence. 

There are several effective methods to provide evidence to establish causation, including:

  • Police Reports – Information in police reports can contain details about how the accident occurred, contributing factors, and other valuable information. 
  • Accident Reports – When the police are not involved in an accident, your next best source of evidence is accident reports, sometimes called incident reports. These reports can contain details that contributed to the accident and resulting injuries. 
  • Video Footage – With street cameras, residential and business security systems, and people using their smartphones, having video footage of the accident can benefit your case and establish causation. 
  • Witness Statements – Obtaining witness statements that provide further details about the events can support other types of evidence to prove causation. 
  • Medical Records – Your medical records should contain details about your injuries, how they occurred, and the severity of such injuries. 
  • Accident Reconstruction – Using an independent accident investigator to reconstruct the accident and provide forensic testimony can be beneficial to establish causation.

Let’s look at another example to further help you understand the concept of causation and how it is used in personal injury claims and lawsuits. In this example, let’s assume you are driving through an intersection. As you are, another vehicle T-bones your car because they ran a stop sign, and you are injured.

Now, would the other driver be considered negligent in the T-bone car accident? We have to apply the two types of causation to find out. When applying cause-in-fact, it is clear that the cause of the accident and injuries was due to the defendant running the stop sign. 

Now, when applying proximate cause, was there reasonable foreseeability? One could argue that running a stop sign could foreseeably result in a car accident. 

Proving both actual causation and proximate cause can be difficult to do when you do not fully understand these legal concepts and how they relate to your injury claim. Furthermore, causation is just one of the many elements you must establish and prove in personal injury cases. 

In addition, the defendant’s insurance company will have its own team of lawyers representing their interests. They will do everything to either discredit your claim or get you to accept a very minimal settlement. 

Therefore, having your own legal representation is essential when you want the best outcome and settlement. At Bachus & Schanker, we offer a free case evaluation and consultation to discuss your accident and resulting injuries. 

Our causation lawyers will help you understand your legal rights and the compensation you could receive when you retain us to represent your interests in your personal injury claim. 


But-For Test. (2022).
Cause. (2020).Accident Reconstruction. (2023).