Proximate Cause

Proximate cause refers to how closely the defendant’s actions relate to the injuries or damages incurred by the plaintiff in a personal injury case. Proximate cause is an essential and highly integral to a personal injury case as it sheds light on the intention of the defendant’s actions while simultaneously linking those actions to the injury, damage or death.

The concept of proximate cause is predicated upon the establishment of cause in fact. First, the court must establish cause in fact, or that the defendant’s actions directly resulted in the injury, death or damage that occurred to the plaintiff before proximate cause can be examined. Once cause in fact is established, the plaintiff must show proximate cause. Simply stated, proximate cause refers to exactly how closely the defendant’s actions are related to the incident, thus determining the defendant’s level or scope of responsibility.


The idea of foreseeability is tremendously important in establishing probable cause. Could the defendant foresee or predict that his or her actions would result in an injury? For example, if the defendant ran a red light and caused a collision, that violation of traffic laws resulted in a foreseeable injury, as traffic laws exist to keep motorists safe.

Conversely, injuries that occurred as a result of an unforeseeable circumstance are not the responsibility of the defendant. In fact, even if the defendant’s actions did result in some sort of damage, he or she may not be guilty of negligence under the law.

If one of the plaintiff’s family members has a heart attack upon hearing the news that the plaintiff has been injured by the defendant who ran the red light, the defendant cannot be held responsibility for the family member’s heart attack. Not only was the heart attack unforeseeable, there is no way to prove that the defendant’s actions caused it to happen.