Cause in Fact
Cause in fact is one of the main elements that the plaintiff must prove in a personal injury case. The concept of cause in fact is simple: did the defendant’s actions cause the plaintiff’s injuries? If the answer is yes, then the plaintiff has established cause in fact. However, cause in fact is not always so easy to determine, as the specifics of some cases can complicate the findings of who is to blame.
The “But-For” Cause
Cause in fact is often called the “but-for” or the “without-which-not” cause, as these phrases are used to help the court pinpoint the defendant’s involvement in the plaintiff’s injury. These phrases indicate that the defendant’s actions must be directly linked to the plaintiff’s injuries; if not for those actions, the plaintiff would not have been injured. Say, for example, that the defendant was driving while intoxicated and that in his impaired state, he caused a collision that resulted in an injury to the plaintiff. But for the defendant’s intoxicated driving, there would have been no collision and the plaintiff would not have sustained any injuries.
Cause in fact can be complicated when more than two causes are in play. Known as concurrent causes, it is unlikely that they would have resulted in an injury independently, however when combined these two causes result in someone getting hurt. Take the example of a truck with an unsecured load. If the contents of the truck spill out into a busy intersection and a motorist stops to avoid hitting the truck but is then hit by another motorist who was distracted by his cell phone rather than watching the road, both the truck driver and the distracted driver could be liable for the other motorist’s injuries.
Sufficient Combined Cause
Yet another form of cause in fact is the sufficient combined cause, wherein two separate causes that resulted in injury would have also resulted in an injury had they occurred independently. For example, if you hired a plumber and a contractor to do work on your home and, unbeknownst to you, the plumber did not install a pipe correctly and the contractor did not use the proper material when installing a beam for structural support. If the pipe burst, causing the beam to collapse and injure a member of your family, both the contractor and the plumber would be liable as the shoddy workmanship of both individuals contributed to the injury and damage that occurred to your home.