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Personal Injury Law: What is a Proximate Cause and Why Does it Matter?

June 24, 2020 – Matt Albrecht

Personal Injury Law: Proximate Cause and Why Does it Matter?

To hold a defendant legally responsible for an accident, a plaintiff must establish liability. Among other things, this means that proving that a defendant did something improper and that those improper actions or inactions caused the accident. While the concept of causation may sound relatively straightforward, it can be quite complicated in practice. Here, our Spokane personal injury attorneys describe an important legal concept called ‘proximate cause’ and we explain why it matters for your case. 

Washington Law: Proximate Cause

In personal injury law, proximate cause is essentially a way of delineating something as a “legal” cause—thereby distinguishing it from a “remote” or “non-legal” cause. As defined within the Washington Pattern Jury Instructions–Civil, the term proximate cause can be used to mean a cause that—unbroken by a superseding cause—leads to an injury and without such, the accident would never have happened. 

An Example of Proximate Cause: A Slip and Fall Accident

As with many things in law, the definition is a little bit “wordy”—it can best be understood through an example: Imagine that a family member called you and asked you to stop at a Spokane area grocery store to pick up food for dinner. While on the premises, you slipped on an uncleaned spill and were seriously injured. Was the request of your family member the cause of your accident? No—at least it was not the proximate cause. 

While that phone call was a ‘remote’ or ‘non-legal’ factor in you entering the store, there was a superseding reason for your slip and fall accident. The uncleaned spill on the floor can be correctly classified as a proximate cause. You fell because of the spill, there was no other type of cause in between the two events (slipping and suffering an injury), and, additionally, your fall would not have occurred but-for the presence of the liquid on the floor. 

An Injury May Have More than One Proximate Cause

There is nothing within Washington state that requires injured victims to select a single proximate cause. Quite the contrary; accidents can (and often do) have more than one proximate cause. As Washington is a comparative negligence state, each negligent party will bear liability for their share of an accident. 

Causation is Necessary to Establish Liability—Evidence Matters

If you are considering bringing a personal injury claim, it is imperative that your accident is comprehensively investigated by an experienced Washington personal injury lawyer. You need evidence to prove that the defendant’s negligence was the legal cause of your accident. Proving that the defendant acted in an irresponsible manner is not sufficient. Injured victims must establish a legal connection to recover the full and fair financial compensation that they deserve.  

Call Our Spokane, WA Personal Injury Lawyers for Help

At‌ ‌Albrecht‌ ‌Law‌ ‌PLLC, our Washington personal injury attorneys are proud to offer reliable, results-focused advocacy to victims and their families. If you have questions about but-for causation, we can help. Contact our law firm now for a free consultation. Call (509) 495-1246. We represent injured victims throughout Eastern Washington, including in Spokane County, Adams County, Garfield County, and Ferry County. 


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