What is Proximate Cause and Cause-in-Fact in Car Crash Claims?

proximate cause-cause-in-fact-crash

Have you ever heard of the terms proximate cause of cause-in-fact? The actual cause of a car crash is one of the most important considerations in deciding the claim for damages. This is because the cause must be first determined to see who was at fault. The person at-fault can then be held liable for the compensatory damages. As Georgia is a fault state, this determination is central to most car accident claims.

However, ascertaining the cause of a car accident is not always straight-forward. In a crash where one vehicle collides with the other, the cause of the crash is typically clear. But when multiple vehicles are involved or if the crash also involves factors such as pedestrians or road and weather conditions, things get complicated. This is when the concepts of proximate cause and cause-in-fact come into play.

Here is a look at what these legal concepts are and how they apply to the car accident claims filed in Augusta, GA.

What is Cause-in-Fact?

The cause-in-fact is also known as the actual cause. It is the obvious cause of the injury caused by the crash. For instance, if a driver runs a red light and collides into your vehicle, the other vehicle is the cause-in-fact of the accident. In simpler words, the immediate action or event that directly causes the crash and injuries is the cause-in-fact. However, the proximate cause in an accident may be separate from the cause-in-fact of that incident.

What is Proximate Cause?

Proximate cause is more complicated than cause-in-fact. A proximate cause is the original cause which started the chain of events leading to the accident.

Consider the example used in the definition of cause-in-fact above. If the other driver runs a red light and hits you with no other contributing factor, the negligent driver’s actions are both cause-in-fact and proximate cause. However, what if the driver ran a red light, then saw a pedestrian ahead on the road, and swerved to a side to prevent hitting the pedestrian, thereby hitting your vehicle.

Things get more complicated in a scenario like this. In such a case, the proximate cause and the cause-in-fact are distinct. The cause-in-fact is still the other vehicle which collided into your vehicle and caused the crash. But the proximate cause is likely the pedestrian who was on the road without the signal to cross.

The legal process of determining the proximate cause can become quite complex. This is why various rules and doctrines are used to determine whether a contributing factor was actually the proximate cause of the crash. Here is a look at these.

The ‘But For’ and ‘Substantial Factor’ Rules

In order to make it easier to determine proximate cause, some states use the ‘But For’ rule. This rule operates simply. If the actions of a person or entity caused an injury, and the injury would not have occurred but for these actions, proximate cause is established. However, this applies only when it is foreseeable that an action may result in injury.

For instance, if a driver is driving recklessly and causes an accident, it was foreseeable that the reckless driving would cause the crash. As the crash would not occurred but for the reckless driving proximate cause is established. Now, if a driver somehow hits a pole by the roadside that falls onto the road and causes a second vehicle to suffer a crash, the first driver could not have foreseen this consequence. So establishing proximate cause may not be possible.

A second rule or test that is used to established proximate cause is known as the Substantial Factor rule. As per this rule, the actions of a person can’t be determined as proximate cause until they are a substantial factor in causing the crash. This means that the actions must materially contribute to the crash and their effects must be in operation right at the time the injury occurred.

Taking the same example cited above, if a driver hits a vehicle and causes an injury, the actions were in operation when the injury occurred, so the driver substantially contributed to the incident. Conversely, in the example of the pole crash, the driver’s actions were no longer in operation when the second vehicle crashed into the fallen pole. So the substantive factor test is not fulfilled.

Hiring a Reliable Augusta Personal Injury Lawyer

If you have suffered an accident in Augusta, GA, you will need a lawyer to help you establish cause and hold the at-fault driver accountable. In a crash involving multiple factors, the other driver can claim that his or her actions were not the actual or proximate cause. It is then up to your lawyer to show the fault of the other driver and establish cause. Here at Ted Greve & Associates, we can work with you to establish cause and ensure that you are able to recover compensatory damages. Contact us today to discuss your case with us in a free consultation.