Most people know that a person injured in a car accident or other negligence case (the ‘plaintiff’) will have to prove that the other driver was negligent and that the plaintiff has sustained an injury. Evidence supporting the injury claim will include medical bills, doctor reports, wage loss records, etc.
Definition of Proximate Cause
However, in addition to proving negligence and damages, the plaintiff, represented by a Wrongful death lawyer trusts, has to prove that the car accident was the ‘proximate cause’ of the injury. Proximate cause means that, but for the accident, the plaintiff would not have sustained the injuries claimed. The following are examples of proximate cause issues that arise in personal injury cases.
Proximate Cause Issues in Back Injuries
Insurance companies will often assert the ‘proximate cause’ defense in a car accident cases involving back injuries. The attorney hired by the insurance company to defend the claim will subpoena copies of all of the plaintiff’s old medical records in attempt to find evidence of prior medical or chiropractic treatment for back pain. With old medical records in hand, the defense attorney will try to convince the jury that the car accident was not the cause of the plaintiff’s present back pain and disability.
In order to fend off this attack, the injured person’s attorney will need the cooperation of her treating physician to testify that the old back pain complaints are different in kind and degree from the injuries caused by the car accident.
Proximate Cause in Medical Malpractice Cases
Proximate cause issues can also arise in medical malpractice cases. For example, assume that a patient undergoes surgery to remove his appendix. During the procedure the surgeon nicks a portion of the small intestine, causing internal bleeding which must be repaired by a second emergency surgery. Before the surgical repair the patient suffers a disabling stroke.
The mere fact that the surgeon was negligent does not prove that bleeding intestine caused the stroke. People get strokes all the time for various reasons. The plaintiff’s attorney will need to hire an expert physician to testify “to a reasonable degree of medical certainty” that the patient’s compromised physical condition caused by the torn intestine directly caused the stroke.
Proximate Cause and Especially Vulnerable Plaintiffs
There is legal principle sometimes referred to as the “egg shell head rule.” The phrase refers to a hypothetical situation where an injured person has an inherited paper thin skull which is readily susceptible to injury. If a car accident occurs, even at low speeds, and causes a serious skull fracture, the at-fault driver will not be able to use the proximate cause defense to avoid full financial responsibility for the person’s injuries. As law states, “the tortfeasor (wrongdoer) takes the victim as he finds him.”