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Proving Causation in a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Case

In Pennsylvania, if someone else gives you an injury by being negligent, that person or party may be financially responsible (liable) for your related expenses. Negligence is a common doctrine used in personal injury law. It means that someone has failed to use proper care. Negligence consists of four central elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damages. The third element, causation, is often the most difficult to prove.

What Is Causation In A Personal Injury Case?

Causation means that the party acting as the defendant in a personal injury case caused the victim’s injuries and related losses. It is one of the most important aspects of a personal injury claim. In essence, it is a requirement for the filing party (the plaintiff) to show using clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s negligent act or omission is what caused the plaintiff to be injured. If there is not enough evidence that the defendant caused the injury or loss in question, the defendant will not be found liable.

Actual Cause vs. Proximate Cause

In Pennsylvania personal injury law, causation is divided into two categories: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause, also known as cause in fact, is the easier type to prove. This legal concept can be understood most simply with the “but for” test. This test asks if the plaintiff would have been injured but for the defendant’s breach of duty. If the answer is no, actual cause has been established. If the answer is yes, the defendant will not be found responsible for the plaintiff’s injury, as it would have occurred regardless of the defendant’s mistake or negligence. 

Proximate cause is a more complicated concept. It is not as straightforward as actual cause. It refers to a broader scope of causation related to foreseeable injury risks. Proximate cause is often used in personal injury cases that involve chain reactions. Proving this type of causation requires a test that is more complicated than the but-for test. It asks two questions:

  1. Should the defendant have reasonably foreseen that his or her actions would result in the plaintiff’s type of injury?
  2. Could the individual have foreseen that the injury would injure the specific plaintiff?

The main goal in proving proximate cause is to establish that the specific injury or event in question was one that the defendant reasonably should have foreseen (and prevented).

Proving proximate cause requires evidence that places the responsibility for the accident with the defendant. If a chain of events is too complex or does not involve a foreseeable risk of injury, it may be unfair to hold a defendant liable.

How to Use Evidence to Prove Causation In A Personal Injury Case

All personal injury cases use the evidentiary standard of “more likely to be true than not true.” This is known as a preponderance of the evidence. Causation is no exception. To bring a successful claim against a defendant, you or your lawyer must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is more likely to have caused your injury than not. In a commercial truck accident for example, a Pittsburgh truck accident lawyer must provide evidence to prove whether the truck driver, trucking company, or other third party was liable for causing the accident. Although the types of evidence available can vary drastically from case to case, some common examples include: 

  • A police report
  • An accident report
  • Eyewitness testimony
  • Photographs and videos
  • Medical evidence
  • Expert testimony

You or your Pittsburgh personal injury lawyer will need to use evidence to establish that the defendant’s actions were either the actual or proximate cause of the injury and losses that you are claiming. Hiring a personal injury lawyer to help you work through a claim can make it easier to prove causation and the other required elements of a lawsuit. Your lawyer can collect evidence and present it in a compelling way to a judge or jury on your behalf. Learn more about causation by requesting a free consultation at Dallas W. Hartman, P.C.

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