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Causation is a necessary element of any personal injury claim. Intuitively, we all have a basic understanding of what causation is. If I ran a red light while you were crossing the street in front of me, and if my car hit you, my driving error almost certainly caused the pedestrian accident.  

Similarly, if I fail to apply the brakes and thereby run into the rear of your car, and if you suffer whiplash, my failure to stop likely caused your whiplash.

The Four Major Elements of a Personal Injury Claim

The Four Major Elements of a Personal Injury Claim

Causation is one of the four elements you need to prove a negligence claim, which most personal injury claims are based on.

Below is a brief explanation of the four legal elements of a negligence claim. These are the four facts you need to prove to establish the defendant’s liability to pay you compensation:

  • Duty of care: The defendant must have owed you a duty of care. This is almost always the case. For instance, motorists have a duty of care to drive safely and obey traffic laws.
  • Breach of duty: The defendant must have breached their duty of care to you. This means they failed to meet the demands of their duty. A doctor who performs an incompetent medical procedure, for example, breaches their duty of professional care. You can breach your duty of care through action or through inaction. 
  • Damages: The defendant’s acts must have harmed you in some way. Once you establish physical injury, you can also receive compensation for psychological injuries such as mental anguish.
  • Causation: As discussed herein, you must prove that the defendant’s negligence was both the actual cause and the proximate cause of the harm you suffered.

You must establish each of these four elements on a “more likely than not” basis. In other words, you must produce enough evidence to convince the court that each of the four elements you allege is at least 51% likely to be true.

Two Forms of Causation

Oregon law recognizes two distinct forms of causation: actual cause and proximate cause. These two forms of causation are distinctly different from each other, but you must prove both of them to win your claim.

Actual Cause

Actual cause is the type of cause that most people are used to thinking of.  Another way of expressing actual cause is ”but-for” causation. “But-for” causation is just a way of saying that if X had not happened, then Y would not have happened either. For example, if I hadn’t gone outside without wearing sunscreen, I would not have gotten sunburned.

Proximate Cause

The word “proximate” means something like “nearby.”  The essence of proximate cause is foreseeability. If the relationship between cause and effect was close enough that the defendant should have foreseen the victim’s injury, proximate cause is present.  

The moral argument for proximate cause

The moral justification for requiring proximate cause is that it seems unfair to hold someone liable for an event they couldn’t have been expected to foresee. 

Suppose, for example, that I push you into a commuter train as it leaves the station. This causes you to drop a package containing an explosive, and the resulting explosion causes a woman standing 30 feet away to suffer a heart attack and die. 

Should I be held liable for the woman’s death? Most people would think not. A case with these facts, called Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Co., is still used to teach law students about proximate cause. 

Your Choice of Portland Personal Injury Attorney Might Be the Most Important Decision You Make in Your Case

Not all lawyers are created equal. Firstly, a trusts and estates lawyer practices a very different type of law than a personal injury lawyer.

Second, even among Portland personal injury lawyers, some are a lot better than others. And yes, you can afford the best, as just about any lawyer will charge nothing upfront. Your legal fees amount to a percentage of your winnings.

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