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Understanding Independent Intervening Causes

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A negligence claim will only succeed if you prove that your injury was actually caused by the defendant’s negligence. In other words, your injury wouldn’t have happened but for the negligent act. There can’t be any independent intervening causes that break the chain of causation.

What Is an Independent Intervening Cause?

An independent intervening cause is an act or event (by a party other than the defendant) that happens after the negligent act and injures the plaintiff. It must be truly independent and not set in motion by the defendant’s negligence. Some seemingly independent events are actually foreseeable consequences of the original act.

For example, imagine that a drunk driver makes a sudden stop, forcing another driver to slam on his brakes. A third car is also forced to stop. Finally, a fourth car fails to stop in time, striking the third car and pushing it into the second car. Is the drunk driver’s negligence the proximate, or direct, cause of the damage to the second and third cars, or is the fourth car’s failure to stop an independent intervening cause that broke the chain of causation?

The Florida Supreme Court considered this very issue in a 1987 case. The court first explained the difference between a truly independent intervening cause and an event that is a foreseeable consequence:

A negligent party is not liable for someone else’s injuries when a separate action is the intervening cause. However, this is distinguishable from situations in which the original negligent conduct ‘sets in motion’ the chain of events that leads to injury to the plaintiff. The court said that the original negligent actor might still be liable if the intervening cause is foreseeable.

In the drunk driver example, the court said that it was foreseeable that his conduct would force other drivers to suddenly stop and that some cars might not be able to stop in time to avoid a collision. Therefore the drunk driver was liable for injuries caused by the fourth driver. However, the court used these facts to distinguish a different set of facts, in which the plaintiff’s injuries were not foreseeable.

In that case, the plaintiff’s car was damaged after driving through a deep puddle at a railroad crossing. To make a long story short, she, her husband and brother-in-law were stopped on the side of the road trying to make repairs when another driver came by and offered to help. That driver turned around and drove straight toward the plaintiff’s car, going 40 miles per hour. He failed to stop and slammed into the back of the damaged car, pinning the plaintiff between the two vehicles. The court held that it wasn’t foreseeable that the other driver would act this way, and found that the Department of Transportation and railroad company (which failed to keep the tracks clear of puddles) were not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

An experienced attorney can examine the facts of your case and help determine whether the defendant’s negligence was the cause of your injuries.

Contact Us Today

Contact a Miami personal injury attorney at The Pendas Law Firm today for a free consultation if you were injured because of another person’s negligence. We will help prove that your injury was caused by that negligence and not by an intervening cause, and we will help recover compensation for your damages.

The Pendas Law Firm also represents clients in the Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Tampa, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach and Bradenton areas.

Resource:

floridasupremecourt.org/civ_jury_instructions/formerInstructions.shtml#causation

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