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Using Proximate Cause, Circumstantial Evidence in a Personal Injury CaseThe strongest argument that you can make in a personal injury case comes from having direct evidence of the actual cause of an injury. Your first-hand account or the testimony of a witness can directly connect the negligence of another party with the incident that led to your injury. Unfortunately, some cases lack direct evidence of what caused an accident, such as a wrongful death incident that no one witnessed. You can use proximate cause and circumstantial evidence to prove the defendant’s liability, but the court will need to be convinced that it is the most plausible explanation.

Proximate Cause

As opposed to the actual cause, proximate cause is a factor that led to an injury or death, even if it was not the direct cause. The proximate cause may be an act of negligence or recklessness that set in motion the events that resulted in an injury. Courts determine that a factor is the proximate cause of an injury if the injury could have been avoided if not for that factor. For instance:

  • When you are in a car accident, the other vehicle may have been the actual cause of your injuries; but
  • If a faulty car part caused the other driver to lose control of the vehicle, the equipment malfunction would be the proximate cause of the accident and the party that made or installed the equipment is liable.

Circumstantial Evidence

When you do not have direct evidence of what caused an accident, you can present circumstantial evidence that you believe infers the cause of the accident. Circumstantial evidence may be observations or witness testimony that reasonably points towards the cause of an injury. A court will accept circumstantial evidence as establishing a fact if that fact is the only probable conclusion that it can draw from that evidence.

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Proving Proximate Cause in a Personal Injury LawsuitTwo factors determine whether a defendant can be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit: actual cause and proximate cause. Actual cause, also known as cause-in-fact, is when the defendant’s actions directly lead to the injury. Proximate cause is determining whether the defendant could have reasonably foreseen that his or her actions would cause injury. Proving proximate cause can be straightforward with a defendant whose actions directly resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. A reckless driver can reasonably foresee that his or her actions would put other drivers and pedestrians in danger. However, proximate cause can be more difficult to prove with a third party involved in the incident.

Recent Case

In Kramer v. Szczepaniak, the plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit against multiple defendants whom they claim are liable for a vehicle-pedestrian accident. The plaintiffs were leaving a Chicago movie theater at 1:30 a.m. and used Uber to call a ride. The driver could not figure out the directions to get the passengers to their destination and kicked them out of the vehicle when one of them offered to help give directions. While walking home, the plaintiffs were hit in a pedestrian crossing by a driver who was speeding. The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the driver of the vehicle that hit them, the Uber driver, Uber, and the person who let the Uber driver use his vehicle. Before hearing any arguments, a trial court dismissed the lawsuit against all defendants except for the driver who hit the plaintiffs, citing a lack of proximate cause.

Appeal

An Illinois appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling, stating that there is a question of fact whether the Uber driver is liable for the injuries. The court said that the plaintiffs proved actual cause with the driver because they would not have been walking home if the driver had not forced them out of the vehicle before reaching their destination. As for proximate cause, the court said it is possible that the driver could have foreseen that he was putting the plaintiffs in danger because:

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