Failure to Prove Proximate Cause:
A Defense Tactic Used Against Victims in Car Accidents
If you're in a car accident that was somebody else's fault, your natural inclination is to assume that the other driver must be held responsible for their actions. Unfortunately, insurance companies are ultimately the ones who compensate you for your damages if you're able to prove that the other driver was indeed at fault.
As you might guess, these insurance companies are not interested in taking the blame without first putting up a fight. As the plaintiff (the person bringing the claim against the other driver), you have a few things to prove to a jury, if and/or when you go to trial, one of them being proximate cause. In layman's terms, this means that Texas law requires you to prove that the other driver's misconduct was the main cause of the accident (as opposed to a secondary or minor cause). The person you sued will therefore try to argue that you failed to prove that they were the proximate cause. Thus, we call their strategy the "proximate cause defense."
Questions Answered on this Page:
- What is the proximate cause defense?
- How does foreseeability factor into this defense?
- How does this defense impact my car accident case?
What is the Proximate Cause Defense?
Let's briefly discuss one of the tactics that insurance companies and defense lawyers will use to mitigate their fault. This tactic can be best described as, the defendant showing that you have not fulfilled one of the requirements of filing a personal injury case: proving that the defendant was the proximate cause of your injuries.
In simplest terms, "proximate cause" refers to the specific action or "thing" that was presumably the cause of your accident. If the defense can prove that their insured driver wasn't the specific cause of your injuries (or that you failed to prove that he was), then they can avoid paying out the full amount you deserve or, in some cases, even paying at all.
For you to successfully prove that the other driver was the proximate cause of your injuries, there are two basic elements that must be established:
- First, recall that we mentioned proximate cause is the specific cause of your injuries, otherwise known as the "cause in fact." In the event of a car accident, if the defense can prove that your injuries were caused by your poor driving, rainy conditions, the acts of some other party, etc, then they will assert that their client was not the cause in fact. If they can show that they were not the cause inf act of your injuries, then, by extension, they cannot be the proximate cause of your damages, letting them off the hook, so to speak.
- Secondly, the other sub-part to establishing that the other driver was the proximate cause of your injuries is a concept known as "foreseeability." The concept of foreseeability refers to whether or not the person who hurt you could have foreseen that their misconduct could cause such harm. The idea at work here is that the law does not want you to be able to get money from someone when they never in a million years could have guessed that what they did could cause injuries to someone. Imagine that made a pie and smacked your face in the friend right in the face with it, only, unbeknownst to you, your friend was deathly allergic to whipped cream, and this prank caused them to die. Obviously, such an outcome is not anything you could have predicted, so you wouldn't think it's fair for a court to deem you guilty of killing your friend. Well, the same standard applies in a car accident case. If the defendant did something wrong, but the harm it caused was not something they could have ever predicted, then your case fails on the grounds of forseeability.
Since it is foreseeable that the defendant could cause an accident when driving badly, you really only have to prove that the defendant's negligence was the cause in fact of the accident and you have proven proximate cause.
Proximate Cause Example Cases
Here are some examples in which the defendants can argue that you have not sufficiently proven proximate cause.
Assume that you are injured in a car accident that happened because you were run off the road. Another driver swerves in their lane of traffic and almost hits you, causing you to drive off the roadway to avoid the collision. In the process, you crash your car into a ditch and are subsequently injured. Now, your automatic response to that situation is likely to assume the driver is at fault. However, their insurance carrier might argue that the proximate cause of the accident was that you swerved to avoid the collision, causing your car to drive off the road and into a ditch. Even though the other car had nearly hit you, they would argue that the proximate or specific cause of the accident is that you swerved off the road.
Consider another example that comes from a case we litigated at Grossman Law Offices. In this case, a driver was involved in a collision with a distracted driver and both vehicles pulled off of the road to inspect the damage. As our client exited his vehicle, he was struck by a passing driver who was later determined to be intoxicated. In this case, the insurance carrier argued that the proximate cause of our client's injuries were from the drunk driver, not from the distracted driver. By arguing that, the defendant was attempting to escape the liability for our client's injuries by illustrating that our client failed to prove that the accident was the proximate cause of their injuries.
Still, we were able to successfully argue that the proximate cause of the accident was the initial wreck caused by the defendant, the distracted driver, and that he takes on the liability for anything else that happens due to the accident, notwithstanding the actions of the drunk driver. Essentially, we were able to say that were it not for the distracted driver who caused the initial accident, our client would not have had reason to get out of his vehicle in the first place and thus be hit by the passing drunk driver.
The point to be made here is that insurance carriers and their lawyers like to take common sense situations and distill them into legal hocus pocus. A good car accident attorney knows how to argue around these attempts.
Proving Proximate Cause In Your Case
So, we've spent some time discussing proximate cause and how it works in different cases, but why is it so important? Shouldn't common sense dictate who is at fault in an accident, and won't the jury understand?
Proving proximate cause in a car accident can be a challenging task depending on the complexity of the causal relationship between the defendant's actions and the plaintiff's injuries, even though it seems like it's based on common sense. One of the reasons that it can be difficult is because of the defense attorneys and insurance carriers. Both will have an excellent idea of what constituted the accident and they will try their hardest to convince the jury that the blame rests not with their client, but with someone or something else. Rest assured that they are well-versed in these types of cases, and as such, you have the burden of proof if you choose to bring a claim against them.
They know that, ultimately, the jury has to be convinced of the proximate cause of the accident before siding with either the defendant or you, the plaintiff. If there is any gray area in your case, any uncertainty or elements that can be misinterpreted, the defense will manipulate that and use it to their advantage, attempting to circumvent liability.
Hiring An Attorney
Our attorneys have spent over 25 years litigating car accident cases and have dealt with all the defense tactics used by insurance carriers. Proximate cause can be a complex thing to prove because there are many aspects to it. The fact of the matter is, it takes experience to navigate the abundance of information and present it to a jury in a favorable light.
With a car accident lawyer from our office, you will be in excellent, competent hands. We can help you understand all the details of your case, including the various elements of proximate cause, so that you can recover the appropriate compensation for your damages. We may be contacted at any time, day or night, by calling (855) 326-0000.
Here are some other defenses that car insurance lawyers like to use against victims:
- Comparative fault
- Act of god
- Failure to keep lookout
- Failure to apply brakes
- Claim of pre-existing injuries
- Fault of a third party
- Unavoidable collision
- Insurance policy doesn't apply