Proximate Cause

This flow chart separates out the proximate cause element of negligence and strict liability and walks you through the analysis.

If there are no intervenors, the analysis is very simple – identify the risk the defendant’s negligence created, apply the risk rule, and determine whether the harm is within the scope of the risk.

If there are intervenors, then for each intervenor you need to ask if the intervenor is dependent (meaning the intervenor is a natural consequence of the defendant’s negligence) or independent (meaning that the intervenor is not a natural consequence of the defendant’s negligence). If dependent, the intervenor is normally foreseeable, and there is normally proximate cause. If independent, the intervenor is normally considered unforeseeable and there is no proximate cause.

There are caveats to be aware of: (1) there is no proximate cause if the consequence of the defendant’s negligence is unforeseeable (even if there is a dependent or foreseeable intervenor); and (2) there is proximate cause for foreseeable consequences caused by unforeseeable intervenors if the defendant’s actions increased the risk of harm.

For more information, see our two-part video covering negligence (proximate cause is covered in part 2).