Previous posts here have discussed the fact that many, if not most, motor vehicle injury civil lawsuits are filed on the basis of the negligence of another party. We have also touched on some of the basic elements of a negligence claim. Our readers might remember that these include breach of a legal duty, cause in fact, proximate cause and the existence of damages. A few weeks ago we talked about cause in fact, or "but-for" causation. This week we'll look briefly at the concept of "proximate cause."
Proximate cause is a bit more complicated than cause in fact. In practice, one can have cause in fact without proximate cause, but not vice versa. So, for proximate cause to exist, first, the defendant's breach of a legal duty must be the actual cause of the plaintiff's injury. However, the inquiry into proximate cause does not end there.
For proximate cause to exist, the injury to the plaintiff must also have been a reasonably foreseeable result of the defendant's breach of duty. To put it another way, the harm caused cannot be so remote, or have had an intervening cause, such that a reasonable person wouldn't have realized that it was a possible outcome of the action or inaction that caused the breach of duty. In many cases of truck accidents, this will not be a problem, especially when it is the negligence of the driver that is at issue. Failure to signal or traveling at excessive speeds are risks that reasonable people would know may lead to an accident, for example.
However, proximate cause may well be an issue when discussing the negligence of a commercial trucking company, for instance. A failure to adhere to certain standards required by regulations may be related to certain types of accidents, but not necessarily clearly a proximate cause of them. While failure to check that a driver maintains his required log might lead to an overworked or sleepy driver, an accident caused because that driver fell asleep at the wheel may be foreseeable, but it may be a more difficult question as to whether proximate cause exists if, say, the driver forgot to secure his load.
So, basically, Texas drivers should be aware that there can be some complicated issues even in what seems to be a fairly simple chain of events. Those who have been seriously injured in a truck accident caused by another driver may need to get more information about their own unique circumstances.