Proving Causation in a Personal Injury Case
Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2017.
Alabama personal injury law hinges on the legal concept of negligence. A plaintiff in a personal injury suit will need to prove the defendant in the case was negligent to secure compensation for his or her damages. There are four basic elements to negligence:
- Duty. The plaintiff must show the defendant owed a duty of care in the given situation.
- Breach. Next, the plaintiff must show how the defendant breached this duty of care.
- Causation. The plaintiff must show the defendant’s breach of duty caused his or her damages and not some other cause.
- Damages. The plaintiff can only sue if he or she incurred measurable losses or damages from the defendant’s negligence. If the defendant’s actions did not cause harm or resulted in no economic losses, there is no claim.
Understanding Causation in Personal Injury Lawsuits
Proving causation is usually the most complicated portion of establishing negligence in personal injury cases. Injuries and other damages can happen from any number of sources, and the law dictates that plaintiffs can sue only for losses that directly resulted from a defendant’s negligent actions. The burden of proof rests on the plaintiff to show the court that his or her damages resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty of care and not some other source.
Establishing causation is much easier in some cases than others. For example, a plaintiff may sue for damages resulting from a neck and back injury after a car crash caused by the defendant. Neck and back injuries are extremely common in car accidents, thus making causation fairly simple to prove. However, if the plaintiff is suing for other injuries that are less common in car accidents or require more extensive or specialized treatment, proving causation may be more complicated.
Some people are more susceptible to injuries and other damages than others due to preexisting medical conditions or frailty from illness or old age. The court often refers to such individuals as “eggshell plaintiffs,” indicating they are more susceptible than usual to injury. In these cases, plaintiffs will need to provide medical records and other documentation to succeed in their claims. If a preexisting medical condition or prior injury made the plaintiff’s damages worse, the court will need to apportion the damages between the prior medical issues and the defendant’s actions. In other cases, plaintiffs will simply need to provide the evidence necessary to prove the defendant’s actions caused the damages in question.
Expert Witnesses and Proximate Causation
Many personal injury cases require testimony from experts. These individuals are usually doctors or other professionals who can provide an expert’s point of view on a given situation. For example, a plaintiff with a history of back pain may suffer injuries in a car accident, causing further damage to his or her back. A medical expert may testify to prove that the plaintiff’s injuries occurred due to the accident and not his or her prior medical issues.
It’s also important for plaintiffs to understand the difference between actual causation and proximate causation. Actual causation refers to damages that would not have occurred if the defendant had not acted negligently. For example, a car accident caused by a drunk driver would likely not occur if the driver were sober. In this case, the drunk driving is the actual causation. Proximate causation comes into play when another element or event could have contributed to the plaintiff’s damages or made them worse beyond the effects of the defendant’s negligence.
Proving causation may sound complex, and it certainly can be in many cases. However, injured plaintiffs who secure reliable and experienced personal injury attorneys for legal representation in their claims are far more likely to succeed in even the most complicated matters. If you’d like to discuss your personal injury, accident or wrongful death suit in a free consultation, contact The Mitchell Law Firm, LLC in Birmingham, AL.