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Each separate antecedent of an event. Something that precedes and brings about an effect or a result. A reason for an action or condition. A ground of a legal action. An agent that brings something about. That which in some manner is accountable for a condition that brings about an effect or that produces a cause for the resultant action or state.
A suit, litigation, or action. Any question, civil or criminal, litigated or contested before a court of justice.
Cause and Causality in American Law
In Criminal Procedure, probable cause is the reasonable basis for the belief that someone has committed a particular crime. Before someone may be arrested or searched by a police officer without a warrant, probable cause must exist. This requirement is imposed to protect people from unreasonable or unrestricted invasions or intrusions by the government.
In the law of torts, the concept of causality is essential to a person's ability to successfully bring an action for injury against another person. The injured party must establish that the other person brought about the alleged harm. A defendant's liability is contingent upon the connection between his or her conduct and the injury to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must prove that his or her injury would not have occurred but for the defendant's negligence or intentional conduct.
Actual, Concurrent, and Intervening Cause
The actual cause is the event directly responsible for an injury. If one person shoves another, thereby knocking the other person out an open window and he or she breaks a leg as a result of the fall, the shove is the actual cause of the injury. The immediate cause of the injury in this case would be the fall, since it is the cause that came right before the injury, with no intermediate causes. In some cases the actual cause and the immediate cause of an injury may be the same.
Concurrent causes are events occurring simultaneously to produce a given result. They are contemporaneous, but either event alone would bring about the effect that occurs. If one person stabs another person who is simultaneously being shot by a third person, either act alone could cause the person's injury.
An intervening cause is one that interrupts the normal flow of events between the wrong and the injury. It comes between an expected sequence of occurrences to produce an unanticipated result. If someone driving under the influence of alcohol grazes a telephone pole that is rotted and thus knocks it down, the condition of the pole would be the intervening cause of its collapse. This is important in determining the liability of the intoxicated driver. If the telephone company knew or should have known about the unsafe condition of the pole and negligently failed to replace it, the telephone company would be responsible for the harm caused by the falling pole. Depending upon how hard the driver hit the pole, the driver may be held contributorily negligent, or partially liable, for the accident that took place.
An intervening efficient cause is one that totally supersedes the original wrongful act or omission. For example, an intoxicated cabdriver transports a person in a cab with faulty brakes. An accident occurs, which is a direct result of the intoxication rather than the faulty brakes. The injury resulting to the passenger is attributable to the driver's condition. The intervening efficient cause thereby broke the causal connection between the original wrong of the faulty brakes and the injury.
Proximate, Unforeseeable, and Remote Cause
The proximate cause of an injury is the act or omission of an act without which the harm would not have occurred. This is a concept in the law of torts and involves the question of whether a defendant's conduct is so significant as to make him or her liable for a resulting injury. For example, a person throws a lighted match into a wastepaper basket that starts a fire that burns down a building. The wind carries the flames to the building next door. The act of throwing the match would be the proximate cause of the fire and the resulting damage; however, the person may not be held fully liable for all resulting consequences.
An unforeseeable cause is one that unexpectedly and unpredictably results from the proximate cause. The degree of injury sustained is unanticipated or far removed from the negligent or intentional conduct that took place. For example, if a customer in a supermarket irritates a clerk and the clerk pushes the customer out of the way, which results in prolonged bleeding because the person is a hemophiliac, the bleeding is an unforeseeable consequence of the clerk's action. Even if the clerk intentionally pushed the customer, the resulting injury is clearly far removed from the conduct.
A remote cause is one that is removed or separate from the proximate cause of an injury. If the injuries suffered by a person admitted to a hospital after being hit by a truck are aggravated by malpractice, the malpractice is a remote cause of injury to that person. The fact that the cause of an injury is remote does not relieve a defendant of liability for the act or omission, but there may be an apportionment of liability between the defendants.