Can You Recover Damages if There Was an Intervening Cause?

May 11, 2018

Causation is a critical element in every personal injury lawsuit, from motor vehicle accidents to slip-and-fall accidents — if you cannot show that the defendant’s conduct caused your injuries, then you cannot recover damages pursuant to Pennsylvania law.  In some situations, the defendant may be clearly negligent, but their negligent conduct may not actually lead step-by-step to the suffered injuries.  Instead, an intervening cause (i.e., some unforeseeable event) may break the “chain of causation” and absolve the defendant of liability.

Fortunately, the bar that Pennsylvania defendants must reach in order to avoid liability (by establishing that there was an intervening cause) is rather high.  If you can show that the chain of causation did not “break,” then you can still sue and recover damages from the negligent defendant at-issue.

The Chain of Causation in the Personal Injury Cases

In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, courts evaluate the chain of causation that connects a defendant’s negligent conduct with the particular harm at-issue.  The chain of causation is essentially a sequence of events — if the sequence is unbroken, then liability may attach to the defendant.

This can be rather confusing for the layperson, so let’s clarify the “chain of causation” concept with a quick example.

Suppose that you are injured in a trip-and-fall accident on a sidewalk.  You tripped on a kid’s toy that a child was playing with nearby.  At the time, you were being hassled by a street salesman to purchase various knick-knacks.  Your argument may be that the defendant salesman is liable for your injuries as they distracted you from nearby hazards.  The defendant salesman is likely to avoid liability, however, as they can argue that the child’s toy was an unforeseeable event that broke the chain of causation.  The defendant is not an absolute guarantor of your safety.  The third-party conduct here — the child playing with the toy in the middle of the sidewalk — broke the chain of causation.

Foreseeable Events Do Not Absolve the Defendant of Liability

In Pennsylvania, the basic rule is that the chain of causation will break if the intervening event is not foreseeable.  For example, if you are shoved into a telephone pole, and lightning suddenly and unexpectedly strikes the pole, causing you injuries, you cannot hold the defendant liable for the lightning strike injuries — the intervening event (i.e., the lightning strike hitting the pole) was not reasonably foreseeable.

On the other hand, if an intervening event is foreseeable to the defendant — even if strange and non-standard — then you can hold the defendant liable for your injuries.  For example, suppose that the defendant shoves you into a room with an angry, poorly-trained dog that has a history of biting incidents.  It is reasonably foreseeable that the dog will attack you and cause you to suffer injuries, even if it is technically an “intervening event.”  As such, the chain of causation will not break, and the defendant may be held liable for your injuries.

Contact an Experienced Bethlehem Accident Attorney for Assistance With Your Claims

Here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC, our attorneys have decades of experience representing injured claimants in a variety of legal disputes, including those that involve confusing issues that relate to causation (and intervening events).

In situations where a subsequent cause contributed to your injuries, the defendant is very likely to attempt an argument in which they claim their own negligence is absolved — overcoming this defense requires the combined skill-sets of attorneys who have extensively litigated injury claims in Pennsylvania courts.  We are well-positioned to help secure a favorable verdict or settlement on your behalf.

Call (888) 777-7098 or submit an online form today for a free consultation and evaluation of your various injury claims with an experienced Bethlehem accident attorney here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC.