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Understanding “Causation” in Negligence Cases


To prevail on a claim for negligence, an injured plaintiff must prove all four of the basic elements of the claim:

1.  The existence of a legally-recognized duty the defendant owed to the plaintiff (or, in some cases, to the public at large – of which the plaintiff is a part).

2. A breach (violation) of that duty by the defendant.

3. Causation. This means the defendant’s breach of the duty was the cause of the harm or damage the plaintiff suffered.

4. The plaintiff suffered legally-recognized injury or damage.


Unless the plaintiff can prove a causal connection between the defendant’s action (or failure to act, in situations where action was legally required) and the plaintiff’s damages, the plaintiff’s negligence claim will fail. Causation is thus a mandatory element of a negligence claim.

However, the defendant’s conduct does not necessarily have to be the only cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.


California law recognizes two types of causation: actual and proximate.

Actual causation occurs where the Defendant’s negligence is the cause in fact or “actual” cause of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff.

Proximate causation, sometimes referred to as “legal causation” is a form of causation that courts examine only after the defendant has been found to be the cause in fact of the plaintiff’s damages. Essentially, proximate causation requires that the plaintiff would not have suffered the injury “but for” the defendant’s negligent acts. Proximate causation can be complicated, and occasionally relieves a defendant of liability where, due to various laws, public policies, and legal doctrines, the defendant is held not to have been the “legal cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries.

Causation is often one of the more complex elements of a negligence claim. If you have been injured, consult an experienced attorney promptly for an analysis of your individual situation, rights, and potential claims.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses) are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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