Proximate Cause


In the law, a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held the cause of that injury. There are two elements needed to determine proximate cause: the activity must produce a foreseeable risk , and the injury must be caused directly by the defendant's negligence. There may be more than one proximate cause of an injury or event.


The doctrine of proximate cause is notoriously confusing. The doctrine is phrased in the language of causation, but in most of the cases in which it is applied, there is no real dispute that the defendant caused the plaintiff's injury. The doctrine is actually used by judges to limit the scope of the defendant's liability to a subset of the total class of potential plaintiffs who suffered some harm from the defendant's actions. For an understanding of the broader view of causation which proximate cause circumscribes, see Butterfly effect.

For example, in the two famous Kinsman Transit cases from the 2nd Circuit (exercising admiralty jurisdiction over a New York incident), it was clear that mooring a boat improperly could lead to the risk of a boat drifting away and crashing into another boat, and that both boats could crash into a bridge, which collapsed and blocked the river, and in turn, the wreckage could flood the land adjacent to the river, as well as prevent any traffic from traversing the river until it had been cleared. But under proximate cause, the property owners adjacent to the river could sue ( Kinsman I ), but not the owners of the boats or the cargoes which could not move until the river was reopened ( Kinsman II ).

Therefore, in 2001, the American Law Institute proposed in a draft of the Restatement (Third), Torts: Liability for Physical Harm (Basic Principles) that proximate cause should be replaced with scope of liability.

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