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Negligence - Causation
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Causation

Issue

Causation may be addressed under one heading or with sub-headings for Actual Cause and Proximate Cause.

Rule
July 2014 #6 Model A To show cause, the plaintiff must show actual cause (that the plaintiff's injury would not have happened but for the defendant's conduct) and proximate or legal cause (that the plaintiff's injury was foreseeable in that it was a result of the increased risk created by the defendant's conduct/within the normal incidents of the defendant's conduct).
July 2014 #6 Model B For causation, plaintiff must establish both actual and proximate cause. Actual cause is causation in fact; but for the defendant's actions, the plaintiff's injury would not have occurred. Proximate cause is a limitation on liability, and says that the injury must be foreseeable; the defendant is generally liable for all harm that is the normal incident of and within the increased risk of his conduct.
February 2011 #4 Model A Causation
The breach must be the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's damages for the defendant to be held liable.

Actual Cause
An act is the actual cause of an injury when it is the but for cause. If the injury would not have occurred, but for the defendant's act, the actual causation element is satisfied.

Proximate Cause
The defendant also must prove that the act was the proximate cause. To be the proximate cause, the act must have been foreseeable at the time the act was committed.

February 2011 #4 Model B Courts have traditionally divided the causation element into two parts: (1) cause in fact and (2) proximate cause. Under the cause in fact, the traditional test is whether the harm would have occurred "but for" defendant's breach. Under proximate cause, the harm will be said to proximately cause the injury if the harm is a foreseeable result of the breach.
Analysis & Conclusion

Make sure to analyze both actual and proximate cause. Combining the two can cause you to lose points for failing to provide analysis on one.

February 2011 #4 Model A Causation
The breach must be the actual and proximate cause of the plaintiff's damages for the defendant to be held liable.

Actual Cause
An act is the actual cause of an injury when it is the but for cause. If the injury would not have occurred, but for the defendant's act, the actual causation element is satisfied.
Paula will argue that but for Gayle jumping into the car and swinging it toward the curb without looking, Paula would not have been hit by Gayle's car, and would not have been injured. The court will agree. It should be noted that Frances' act of yelling at Gayle to move her car was not a superseding force that cuts off Gayle's liability because it occurred before Gayle's negligent act. Thus, this element is also met.

Proximate Cause
The defendant also must prove that the act was the proximate cause.
To be the proximate cause, the act must have been foreseeable at the time the act was committed. Here, this was a direct cause case. As soon as Gayle swung her car toward the curb, Paula was hit and injured. There was no superseding intervening act that would cut off Gayle's liability. Thus, Gayle's breach was the actual and proximate cause of Paula's injury and if Paula can prove damages, she will recover.
February 2011 #4 Model B Causation
Courts have traditionally divided the causation element into two parts: (1) cause in fact and (2) proximate cause. Under the cause in fact, the traditional test is whether the harm would have occurred "but for" defendant's breach. Under proximate cause, the harm will be said to proximately cause the injury if the harm is a foreseeable result of the breach. Here, Paula will be able to establish both cause-in-fact and proximate cause. If not for the fact that Gayle quickly turned her car into Paula, it would not have "hit and severely injured" her. As for the proximate cause, the very reason prudent care is required while driving a car is because they are extraordinarily heavy and can cause severe damage to people and property they come into contact with. This makes the danger of hitting someone clearly a foreseeable result of driving negligently. Paula will satisfy both elements of causation.
July 2011 #1 Model A (3) Actual Causation
Causation is satisfied if the defendant’s act was the “but-for” cause of the plaintiff’s harm. Where more than one thing contributes, the causation is satisfied if the defendant’s act was a “substantial factor.”

In this case, P will argue that H’s act was the but-for cause because if he had not kept the gun out, B would not have gotten it and would not have brought on her damages. H will claim that a burglar is likely to find a gun in someone’s house, so even if he had not had it in his, B would have found a gun somewhere else and the harm would have occurred anyway.
The court is likely to find H’s argument tenuous, and find that H’s breach was the but-for cause.

(4) Proximate Causation
The next issue is whether H’s breach was the proximate cause. This is likely to be H’s strongest argument. Proximate cause determines whether it was foreseeable that the harm would occur and whether it would be fair to hold H liable.

In this case, H will argue that it was not foreseeable that someone would break in, steal the gun, and use it to commit a tort against someone else. Typically, the court finds that criminal acts of third parties are “superseding intervening causes,” meaning that they break the chain of causation. Therefore, H will argue B’s burglary and criminal assault should break the chain. P will argue that it was foreseeable this harm would occur, as discussed above, because people often steal guns when they break into homes. Where a homeowner had notice that he was in a dangerous neighborhood, it is more likely proximate cause will be found. Additionally, it would be relevant whether H’s home had ever been broken into before.

H will also claim the chain of causation was broken because P was leaving a midnight movie in a dangerous neighborhood, so that made it more likely she would be attacked. This argument will likely fail, because people often see late movies without getting assaulted at gunpoint. H will also claim that P was not injured because of his leaving the gun out, but rather because she “made [B] mad,” and he was going to shoot her for that reason. If she had handed over the purse, he would not have taken out the gun.


Therefore, the court will likely agree with H and find no proximate cause.

Next: Damages

Core Approach

Causation
Actual Cause
Proximate Cause

Please note: The model answers often contain errors of law, spelling and grammar. We provide them as starting points to craft your own responses.

Model answer materials The State Bar of California, used with permission. All other materials BarProse LLC