What is the difference between ‘intervening’ and “superseding” causes in a personal injury case?

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Written By LoydMartin

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In a personal injury case, the crucial issue of fault is usually proving negligence in relation to the incident or accident. The injured party must prove that the at-fault party was negligent in causing the injuries. This is sometimes called “proximate” in legalese.

Intervening or superseding cause, which is when a third party or act of nature plays a role in the plaintiff’s injury, can disrupt this so-called “causal chains” and reduce or even eliminate the defendant’s liability. This means that intervening or superseding causes may affect your ability to receive fair compensation (“damages”) as a result of your injuries.

What is a “Superseding Cause?”

Let’s suppose that a person is getting off the bus in a parking garage. The driver of the nearby car reverses her car and runs over the person just getting off the bus.

Bus passenger who was hit by a bus sues bus company for not providing a safe area for passengers to board. In this instance, the actions taken by the car driver could be considered to be a major cause of the passenger’s injuries. This is regardless of whether the bus company was negligent. The car driver’s negligence will be cited by the bus company as the superseding cause in a personal lawsuit brought by an injured passenger against the bus company. Learn the basics of negligence in a personal-injury case.

What is an “Intervening cause”?

Sometimes, an “intervening reason” is a cause that occurs after the defendant has acted negligently towards the plaintiff. The key aspect of this definition is that the intervening causes must occur after the defendant’s negligence.

Intervening causes can include the actions of another person (commonly referred to as a “third-party”) and acts of nature such as a branch being thrown from a tree or weather-related events. Even if an intervening cause is claimed, the original defendant will still be held responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries.

It usually comes down to foreseeability

Foreseeability is the key distinction between an intervening and superseding cause. A superseding cause or act is an act that relieves the original defendant from liability if the intervening act could reasonably be foreseeable by the original defendant.

Let’s take an example. Let’s suppose that a homeowner makes a hole in a sidewalk, and leaves it open unattended to pedestrians. The plaintiff is then pushed into the hole by a fellow pedestrian. The homeowner almost certainly is negligent for leaving a gap in the sidewalk. This violates long-standing premises liability standards. It is also possible that the second pedestrian was negligent in crowding the plaintiff into a hole.