Proximate Cause Definition

A proximate cause is the primary act that causes a personal injury accident. In general, the proximate cause is what triggers an accident. Proving this act occurred and identifying who performed it is sufficient to hold that party liable.

What Role Does Proximate Cause Play in Negligence?

All Pennsylvania personal injury cases hinge on proving the defendant acted in a negligent manner and caused the victim’s injuries. This requires documentation of several factors:

  • Whether the defendant broke the law or otherwise acted inappropriately;
  • Whether this action was the proximate cause of the accident; and
  • Whether the victim suffered injuries and actual damages because of the accident.

As you can see, proximate cause plays a key role in proving negligence. This is especially important because victims may not be able hold other parties liable for all causes of an accident. For example, imagine a tree falls on a car as the motorist is driving home from work, causing a car crash. While the tree falling was clearly the proximate cause of the driver’s injuries, the tree cannot be liable for a car accident.

Now imagine the tree fell because another car plowed into it after taking a turn too fast. The proximate cause of the accident is now different. If it was not for the reckless driver, the tree would not have fallen and the driver would not have suffered injuries. This means the other driver is liable for any injuries sustained.  

What Is Foreseeability and Why Does It Matter?

If a person should have been able to predict a particular action could lead to the resulting accident and injuries, then this is likely the proximate cause. When there is foreseeability—when the outcome was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s action—the proximate cause is legally sufficient to support a personal injury claim.

What If the Proximate Cause Is Not the Only Cause in an Accident?

The proximate cause is not the only cause you may hear about during a personal injury case. Many people confuse proximate cause with immediate cause, which is the last action that occurred immediately before the accident. In many cases, these two causes are the same. However, they need not be. For example, if a defective tire blows out on the interstate and causes a vehicle to veer into the other lane and collide with another car, the immediate cause would be the collision. The proximate cause, however, is likely the failure of the defective tire.

Pennsylvania law only asks that the proximate cause be a substantial factor in causing the accident and injuries, but recognizes there are often other causes. This even includes other proximate causes, in some cases. The victim’s actions may also contribute to an accident in a small but significant way. This is a concurring cause.

Berger and Green: Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys

If you suffered injuries in a Pittsburgh personal injury accident, the attorneys at Berger and Green can help you identify the proximate cause of your injuries and hold the liable party responsible. Call us today at 412-661-1400 to get started.