Personal Injury Liability: It Only Attaches if the Defendant Caused Your Injuries

April 20, 2018

In Pennsylvania, as in other states, personal injury claims may be defeated in a number of different ways — oftentimes, the defendant will attempt to undermine and potentially overcome the plaintiff’s claims by arguing that their actions (even if negligent, reckless, or intentional in nature) did not actually “cause” the plaintiff to suffer injuries.

Causation is a fundamental element of all personal injury claims.  If you cannot link the defendant’s wrongful acts to your injuries, then you are not entitled to compensation under Pennsylvania law.  As such, it’s critical that you understand how causation works, and how you can effectively counter the defendant’s arguments.

Let’s start with the basics.

Causation is Required for Successful Recovery

Personal injury claims require that you — the plaintiff — prove that the defendant’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional misconduct proximately caused your injuries.  Establishing proximate causation requires proof that an unbroken sequence of reasonably foreseeable events resulted from the defendant’s conduct, and led to your injuries.  Further, you must be able to show that you would not have suffered injuries were it not for the defendant’s negligent or otherwise wrongful conduct.

Suppose, for example, that you are driving on the highway and lose control, crashing your vehicle and suffering injuries as a result.  You sue another driver on the basis that they were speeding, and were therefore operating their vehicle negligently.  The court is likely to dismiss your case because — despite the fact that the defendant may have been negligently operating their vehicle — you have not linked their speeding to your injuries.  By contrast, if you are able to show that the defendant’s excessive speeding forced you off the road, which led to the accident, then you can potentially recover damages.

Concurrent Causation Does Not Relieve the Defendant of Liability

It’s worth noting that Pennsylvania law does not allow a defendant to escape liability simply because there are other events contributing to your injuries.  When there are multiple causes in a particular accident scenario, they are sometimes referred to as “concurrent causes.”  If there are others responsible for those concurrent causes, you may have a legitimate claim against those additional defendants.

How do concurrent causes work?  Consider the following example.

Suppose that you are involve in a car accident involving a multi-car pileup.  One of the defendants argues that they did not cause your injuries, and asserts that the accident would not have occurred without the second or third cars having negligently contributed to the accident.  In such circumstances, the fact that there are multiple causes is not a liability shield.  Each driver who contributed to the accident can be held liable, so long as you can show that they each substantially contributed — in other words, if the accident would not have resulted but for their individual acts.

Intervening Events Can Break the Causal Chain

As a general rule, Pennsylvania law does not allow a defendant to be held liable when some intervening event has broken the “causal chain” that would otherwise link the defendant’s negligent or wrongful actions with your injuries.  The causal chain will not break for any and all intervening acts — it will only break (thereby shielding the defendant from liability) if the defendant shows that the intervening event was not reasonably foreseeable given the circumstances.

Phew — now that’s a lot of legal terminology!  Let’s clarify.

Suppose that you are injured in an accident where the defendant accidentally collides with you while jogging, causing you to slip and fall into a street barrier.  The barrier would normally break your fall, but it is defectively designed (the defect is non-obvious), and as such, the force of impact collapses the barrier and sends you falling several stories.  You suffer severe injuries as a result.

The fact that the barrier fell could arguably be deemed an intervening cause that severed the “causal chain.”  Whether the court shields the defendant from liability for injuries sustained due to the second fall (after the barrier collapsed) will depend on the circumstances — if the defendant shows that it was not reasonably foreseeable that the barrier would collapse, then they will only be held liable for the injuries they caused prior to the fall.

Contact an Allentown Personal Injury Attorney for Assistance With Your Claims

Here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC, our attorneys have over thirty-three years experience providing legal representation to injured clients in a range of litigation, from motor vehicle accidents to slip-and-fall accidents, to scenarios involving medical malpractice.  We are committed to personalized advocacy.  As such, we work closely with clients to ensure that their goals and preferences are prioritized throughout the litigation process.

We handle claims with an eye towards litigation — we are willing and able to take your claim to trial, and are well-equipped to negotiate a favorable settlement before trial.  Negotiations may not always lead to a pre-trial resolution, however.  In the event that negotiations break down, we are prepared to successfully litigate at trial.  This approach has brought us a great deal of success.  Over the decades, our firm has obtained multimillion dollar verdicts and settlements for our injured clients.

If you’ve suffered injuries in a Pennsylvania accident that was caused due to the negligent, reckless, or intentional acts of another, call (888) 777-7098 today to speak with an experienced Allentown personal injury lawyer here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC.  During your free initial consultation, we will evaluate your claims and help you determine how to proceed so as to maximize your ability to secure full and adequate compensation.