digplanet beta 1: Athena
Share digplanet:


Applied sciences






















For the notion of proximate cause in other disciplines, see Proximate and ultimate causation. For causation in English law, see Causation in English law.

In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be the cause of that injury. There are two types of causation in the law: cause-in-fact, and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-in-fact is determined by the "but for" test: But for the action, the result would not have happened. For example, but for running the red light, the collision would not have occurred. For an act to cause a harm, both tests must be met; proximate cause is a legal limitation on cause-in-fact.

The formal Latin term for "but for" (cause-in-fact) causation, is sine qua non causation.

But for test[edit]

A few circumstances exist where the "but for" test is complicated, or the test is ineffective. The primary examples are:

  • Concurrent causes. Where two separate acts of negligence combine to cause an injury to a third party, each actor is liable. For example, a construction worker negligently leaves the cover off a manhole, and a careless driver negligently clips a pedestrian, forcing the pedestrian to fall into the open manhole. Both the construction worker and the careless driver are equally liable for the injury to the pedestrian. This example obeys the but for test. The injury could have been avoided by the elimination of either act of negligence, thus each is a but for cause of the injury.
  • Sufficient combined causes. Where an injury results from two separate acts of negligence, either of which would have been sufficient to cause the injury, both actors are liable. For example, two campers in different parts of the woods negligently leave their campfires unattended. A forest fire results, but the same amount of property damage would have resulted from either fire. Both campers are equally liable for all damage. A famous case establishing this principle in the United States is Corey v. Havener.[1]
  • In the United States, the rule of Summers v. Tice holds that where two parties have acted unreasonably, but only one causes an injury to a third party, the burden shifts to the negligent parties to prove that they were not the cause of the injury. In that case, two hunters negligently fired their shotguns in the direction of their guide, and a pellet lodged in his eye. Because it was impossible to tell which hunter fired the shot that caused the injury, the court held both hunters liable.[2]
  • Market share evidence.[3] Injury or illness is occasioned by a fungible product made by all the manufacturers joined together in a lawsuit. The injury or illness is due to a design hazard, with each having been found to have sold the same type of product in a manner that made it unreasonably dangerous, there is inability to identify the specific manufacturer of the product or products that brought about the Plaintiff’s injury or illness and there are enough manufacturers of the fungible product joined in the lawsuit, to represent a substantial share of the market. Any damages would then be divided according to the market share ratio.

Since but-for causation is very easy to show and does not assign culpability (but for the rain, you would not have crashed your car – the rain is not morally or legally culpable but still constitutes a cause), there is a second test used to determine if an action is close enough to a harm in a "chain of events" to be a legally culpable cause of the harm. This test is called proximate cause.

There are several competing theories of proximate cause.


The most common test of proximate cause under the American legal system is foreseeability. It determines if the harm resulting from an action could reasonably have been predicted. The test is used in most cases only in respect to the type of harm. It is foreseeable, for example, that throwing a baseball at someone could cause them a blunt-force injury. But proximate cause is still met if a thrown baseball misses the target and knocks a heavy object off a shelf behind them, which causes a blunt-force injury. Evident in Corrigan v HSE (2011 IEHC 305).

This is also known as the "extraordinary in hindsight" rule.[4]

Direct causation[edit]

Direct causation is a minority test, which addresses only the metaphysical concept of causation.[5] It does not matter how foreseeable the result as long as what the negligent party's physical action can be tied to what actually happened. The main thrust of direct causation is that there are no intervening causes between an act and the resulting harm. An intervening cause has several requirements: it must 1) be independent of the original act, 2) be a voluntary human act or an abnormal natural event, and 3) occur in time between the original act and the harm.

Direct causation is the only theory that addresses only causation, and does not take into account the culpability of the original actor.

Risk enhancement/causal link[edit]

The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant's action increased the risk that the particular harm suffered by the plaintiff would occur. If the action were repeated, the likelihood of the harm would correspondingly increase. This is also called foreseeable risk.

Harm within the risk[edit]

The harm within the risk (HWR) test determines whether the victim was among the class of persons who could foreseeably be harmed, and whether the harm was foreseeable within the class of risks. It is the strictest test of causation, made famous by Benjamin Cardozo in Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co. case under New York state law.[6]

The first element of the test is met if the injured person was a member of a class of people who could be expected to be put at risk of injury by the action. For example, a pedestrian, as an expected user of sidewalks, is among the class of people put at risk by driving on a sidewalk, whereas a driver who is distracted by another driver driving on the sidewalk, and consequently crashes into a utility pole, is not.

The HWR test is no longer much used, outside of New York law. When it is used, it is used to consider the class of people injured, not the type of harm. The main criticism of this test is that it is preeminently concerned with culpability, rather than actual causation.

The "Risk Rule"[edit]

Referred to by the Reporters of the Second and Third Restatements of the Law of Torts as the "scope-of-the-risk" test,[7] the term "Risk Rule" was coined by the University of Texas School of Law's Dean Robert Keeton.[8] The rule is that “[a]n actor’s liability is limited to those physical harms that result from the risks that made the actor’s conduct tortious.”[9] Thus, the operative question is "what were the particular risks that made an actor's conduct negligent?" If the injury suffered is not the result of one of those risks, there can be no recovery. Two examples will illustrate this principle:

  • An familiar to law students is that of the restaurant owner who stores rat poison above the grill in his luncheonette. The story is that during the lunch rush, the can explodes, severely injuring the chef who is preparing food in the kitchen. The chef sues the owner for negligence. The chef may not recover. Storing rat poison above the grill was negligent because it involved the risk that the chef might inadvertently mistake it for a spice and use it as an ingredient in a recipe. The explosion of the container and subsequent injury to the chef was not what made the chosen storage space risky.[10]


The doctrine of proximate cause is notoriously confusing. The doctrine is phrased in the language of causation, but in most of the cases in which proximate cause is actively litigated, there is not much real dispute that the defendant but-for caused the plaintiff's injury. The doctrine is actually used by judges in a somewhat arbitrary fashion to limit the scope of the defendant's liability to a subset of the total class of potential plaintiffs who may have suffered some harm from the defendant's actions.[11] For an understanding of the broader view of causation which proximate cause circumscribes, see butterfly effect.

For example, in the two famous Kinsman Transit cases from the 2nd Circuit (exercising admiralty jurisdiction over a New York incident), it was clear that mooring a boat improperly could lead to the risk of a boat drifting away and crashing into another boat, and that both boats could crash into a bridge, which collapsed and blocked the river, and in turn, the wreckage could flood the land adjacent to the river, as well as prevent any traffic from traversing the river until it had been cleared. But under proximate cause, the property owners adjacent to the river could sue (Kinsman I), but not the owners of the boats or the cargoes which could not move until the river was reopened (Kinsman II).[12]

Therefore, in 2001, the American Law Institute proposed in a draft of the Restatement (Third), Torts: Liability for Physical Harm (Basic Principles) that proximate cause should be replaced with scope of liability.[citation needed] The final version published in 2009 included a chapter titled "Scope of Liability (Proximate Cause)." It began with a special note explaining the Institute's decision to reframe the concept in terms of "scope of liability" because it really doesn't involve true causation, and to also include "proximate cause" in the chapter title in parentheses to help judges and lawyers understand the connection between the old and new terminology. The Institute added that it "fervently hopes" that the parenthetical will not be needed in a future fourth Restatement of Torts.

Efficient proximate cause[edit]

A related doctrine is the insurance law doctrine of efficient proximate cause. Under this rule, in order to determine whether a loss resulted from a cause covered under an insurance policy, a court looks for the predominant cause which sets into motion the chain of events producing the loss, which may not necessarily be the last event that immediately preceded the loss. Many insurers have attempted to contract around efficient proximate cause through the use of "anti-concurrent causation" (ACC) clauses, under which if a covered cause and a noncovered cause join together to cause a loss, the loss is not covered.

ACC clauses frequently come into play in jurisdictions where property insurance does not normally include flood insurance and expressly excludes coverage for floods. The classic example of how ACC clauses work is where a hurricane hits a building with wind and flood hazards at the same time. If the evidence later shows that the wind blew off a building's roof and then water damage resulted only because there was no roof to prevent rain from entering, there would be coverage, but if the building was simultaneously flooded (i.e., because the rain caused a nearby body of water to rise or simply overwhelmed local sewers), an ACC clause would completely block coverage for the entire loss (even if the building owner could otherwise attribute damage to wind v. flood).

A minority of jurisdictions have ruled ACC clauses to be unenforceable as against public policy, but they are generally enforceable in the majority of jurisdictions.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Corey v. Havener, 182 Mass. 250.
  2. ^ Summers v. Tice, 199 P.2d 1 (Cal. 1948).
  3. ^ See Sindell v. Abbott Labs.
  4. ^ See Restatement (Second) of Torts.
  5. ^ In re Arbitration Between Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd., 3 K.B. 560 (1921)
  6. ^ Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co., 162 N.E. 99 (N.Y. 1928).
  7. ^ See RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF TORTS: LIAB. FOR PHYSICAL HARM § 29 cmt. d (Proposed Final Draft No. 1, 2005); RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS § 281 cmt. g (1965).
  9. ^ RESTATEMENT (THIRD) OF TORTS: LIAB. FOR PHYSICAL HARM § 29 (Proposed Final Draft No. 1, 2005).
  10. ^ The exact etymology of this hypothetical is difficult to trace. Adaptations are set forth and discussed in Joseph W. Glannon, The Law of Torts: Examples and Explanations (3d ed. 2005) and John C. P. Goldberg, Anthony J. Sebok, and Benjamin C. Zipursky, Tort Law: Responsibilities and Redress (2004) among others.
  11. ^ PPG Indus., Inc. v. Transamerica Ins. Co., 20 Cal. 4th 310, 316 (1999).
  12. ^ See In re Kinsman Transit Co., 338 F.2d 708 (2nd Cir. 1964) and Kinsman Transit Co. v. City of Buffalo, 388 F.2d 821 (2nd Cir. 1968).
  13. ^ Leonard v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 499 F.3d 419 (5th Cir. 2007) (surveying cases).

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael S. Moore, The Metaphysics of Causal Intervention, 88 calif l. rev. 827 (2000).
  • Leon A. Green, The Rationale of Proximate Cause (1927).

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proximate_cause — Please support Wikipedia.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia.
2671 videos foundNext > 

Negligence - Proximate Cause

Proximate cause is determined by how strong the relationship between the injury and the teacher's conduct or breach of duty of care. To learn more about the ...

Tort - Causation Torts Proximate Cause - Palsgraf

A video that explains how seemingly negligent conduct is only negligent to those whose injuries are proximately caused by it. - created at http://goanimate.com/

Tort Law tutorial: Proximate Causation | quimbee.com

A brief excerpt from Quimbee's tutorial video on the proximate causation element of a negligence claim. Watch more at https://www.quimbee.com/courses/2/tutor...

Tort Law tutorial: Proximate Cause: Intervening Forces | quimbee.com

In this video, we discuss the role of intervening forces in establishing the proximate cause element of a negligence claim. This specific video is just one o...

Proximate Cause Movie

This video is real footage of an actual event that happened March 22, 2007.

proximate cause and indemnity.mp4

insurance principles proximate cause and indemnity.

A Proximate Cause

This film has been produced to give an insight into some of the principles of Insurance and part of the role of the Loss Adjuster. The characters are fictiti...

Proximate vs Ultimate Cause

Ms HR talks about proximate versus ultimate cause of an animal behavior.

Torts lecture: Introduction to Proximate Cause | quimbee.com

A brief excerpt from Quimbee's lecture video on proximate cause. Watch more at https://www.quimbee.com/lectures/12. For just $15/month, you can get access to...

Episode 11: How the "sole proximate cause" defense works -TX Injury Law Explained

When pursuing a work injury case against a non-subscriber employer, injured workers often find that the employer pleads a defense referred to as 'sole proxim...

2671 videos foundNext > 

349 news items

Connecticut Law Tribune
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 11:11:15 -0700

Under the state and municipal highway defect statutes, a person injured by a defective road or sidewalk in Connecticutmust prove that the defect was the "sole proximate cause" of the injury in order to recover against the state or municipality. The ...
Lexology (registration)
Mon, 18 Aug 2014 09:41:15 -0700

One thing most courts to come down clearly on the issue of proximate cause in prescription drug failure to warn claims have recognized is that a plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that a different warning (at the time, as to the condition ...
Texas Lawyer
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 18:52:30 -0700

Obviously proximate cause would not be met in that situation, but proximate or legal causation is not required by the guidelines. Additionally, an incident may have many but-for causes. Take a variation of Justice Scalia's baseball example: If the ...
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 08:45:00 -0700

After an autopsy, the forensic pathologist determined that the proximate cause of Tarquino's death was acute ethanol (alcohol) intoxication. Eddy reportedly told police that a group of underage adults asked him to buy them alcohol, and that he ...
Huffington Post (blog)
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:00:00 -0700

While the background and reasons behind Chancellor Wise's decision remain somewhat unclear, it appears that the proximate cause for effectively dismissing Salaita was that in a series of tweets written during Operation Protective Edge, Salaita's ...
Hancock County Journal Pilot
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:11:15 -0700

Price has been charged with endangering the life of health of a child, a Class 3 felony as the violation of the statute was a proximate cause of the death of a child. Price is being held in the Hancock County jail on a $50,000 bond. The investigation ...
Courthouse News Service
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 06:52:30 -0700

PwC's alleged conduct "is not the only plausible proximate cause of the harm alleged in the complaint," The judge wrote. "But sorting among the potential causes and determining which parties are liable is a task for a jury, not a judge deciding a ...
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 03:07:05 -0700

The decedent was the direct and proximate cause of the accident and there was no doubt about that. Unfortunately, she lost her life due to horseplay.” County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he was still reviewing the decision and couldn't comment. The ...

Oops, we seem to be having trouble contacting Twitter

Talk About Proximate cause

You can talk about Proximate cause with people all over the world in our discussions.

Support Wikipedia

A portion of the proceeds from advertising on Digplanet goes to supporting Wikipedia. Please add your support for Wikipedia!