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Author Topic: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause  (Read 23290 times)

old_student

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Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« on: October 18, 2007, 10:24:12 AM »
I'm not clear on the exact differences between "cause in fact" and "proximate cause" and am looking for an example.

Thanks for any help.

Jhuen_the_bird

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #1 on: October 18, 2007, 12:54:40 PM »
I'm pretty sure that an action can be the "cause in fact" of an injury, but the injuy might be too remote to be the "proximate cause."  In other words ... the injury might have been too far removed (as in, unforeseeable) for the party to be liable.  OR there were superceding causes.

cesco

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #2 on: October 18, 2007, 01:27:15 PM »
I think the above answer is correct.  If I remember correctly, causation is essentially a 2 part test. You obviously have to show cause in fact, but to fully establish causation, you must also show proximate cause. 

CAUSATION
In establishing causation, must ask TWO QUESTIONS:
   1. Cause in Fact: Historical Q - was the D's conduct a cause for the P's injury?
      -  "but for"
      -  Alternatives to the "but for"
      -  Substantial Factors
   2. Proximate Cause: If so, is there a reason the legal system should prevent the D from paying? (scope of liability)

2L

laurenlaw

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #3 on: October 18, 2007, 01:41:08 PM »
You were also looking for an example.  Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

I stab you in the leg.  You go to the hospital for treatment, where you slip on a puddle, hit your head on the floor, and die due to brain damage caused in the fall.  Though this passes the "cause in fact" but-for test, but for my stabbing you never would have slipped in the hospital, it doesn't pass the proximate cause test.  You slipping and falling in the hospital wasn't at all forseeable and I can't be held responsible for it.

Jhuen_the_bird

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2007, 09:13:00 PM »
Having just started working on my Torts outline I now also would like to add that cause in fact is (duh) a question of fact whereas proximate cause is a question of law (based on public policy, as well).

old_student

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2007, 10:01:30 PM »
Maybe it's me being dense - maybe it's because it's late - but I still don't get it.

Maybe a different example will help if anyone has one.

Thanks.

vaplaugh

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2007, 11:05:25 PM »
You were also looking for an example.  Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

I stab you in the leg.  You go to the hospital for treatment, where you slip on a puddle, hit your head on the floor, and die due to brain damage caused in the fall.  Though this passes the "cause in fact" but-for test, but for my stabbing you never would have slipped in the hospital, it doesn't pass the proximate cause test.  You slipping and falling in the hospital wasn't at all forseeable and I can't be held responsible for it.

Unless the stabbing of the leg caused a weakened condition which made you more susceptible to slipping...?

Edit:  I'm really just posting to tag because I don't quite remember the test(s) for proximate cause.

Jhuen_the_bird

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2007, 11:10:04 PM »
Here is the example we talked about in class -

The people who live at house A negligently start a fire that causes their house to burn down.  The fire also causes house B nextdoor to burn down.  The fire travels all the way to house Z (burning all the houses in between, as well).  Is house A liable for ALL the houses that have burned?  Many states will only find house A liable for the damage/injury of house B ... most will not allow Z to make a claim against A, because the damage is too remote.  It was probably not foreseeable that the fire would travel so far (and there are other factors like the wind and temperature, etc.) the caused the fire to travel so far.  Exactly WHERE the line is drawn varies from state to state and court to court.

Sorry that all my examples are of negligence since that's all we've done ... no intentional torts yet here :)

old_student

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #8 on: October 23, 2007, 04:10:37 AM »
Thanks for the great example.  So, in your example, house "A" burning is a "cause in fact" of all of the other houses that burned, but it may only be treated as a proximate cause of house "B" burning?


Jhuen_the_bird

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Re: Cause in fact vs. Proximate Cause
« Reply #9 on: October 23, 2007, 10:35:19 AM »
Thanks for the great example.  So, in your example, house "A" burning is a "cause in fact" of all of the other houses that burned, but it may only be treated as a proximate cause of house "B" burning?



Yeah, that's exactly right.  The "cause in fact" seems to always use the "but for" test ("But for the negligence of house A, house Z would not have burned down), but when considering "proximate cause" you don't use that same test ... the courts draw (sometimes seemingly arbitrary) lines.