How Proximate Cause Can Impact an Atlanta Auto Accident Claim?


July 07, 2014

Car accident victims might not think that causation is really much of an issue when pursuing a collision-related injury claim. This assumption is understandable in the straightforward situation where a driver reading a text message plows into another vehicle that is stopped at a red light. However, many situations are not so straightforward. For example, someone could be hit by two different negligent drivers (such as where a car is struck and pushed into the path of another vehicle who should have avoided the accident. Or a road might be negligently constructed or maintained by a public entity, so a driver hydroplanes and slams into another vehicle. There may be different percentages of liability attributed to different parties in a situation such as these, but first, it is necessary to determine what was the proximate cause of the accident.

One element that must be proved in a negligence case is referred to as "proximate cause." This legal term refers to a type of causation beyond what people typically think about when considering whether A caused B. The legal principle of proximate cause (also referred to as "legal cause") deals with the issues of whether the causal connection between events is too tenuous to impose liability. In other words, even if conduct starts a chain of events that lead to a person's injury or death, does specific or excessive intervening acts or events make it inappropriate to impose liability on a defendant who started the chain.

This concept is easiest to understand through an example. After a vehicle is rear-ended by a drunk driver at a stoplight, the occupant of the other vehicle is rushed to a hospital. At the hospital, doctors determine that the car accident victim needs to have a limb amputated, but the hospital amputates the wrong leg. This results in the patient losing both the leg that was burned badly in the crash and the leg that was unaffected by the collision.

In this situation, there is no question that the drunk driver was an actual cause of the wrong limb amputation because the car accident victim would not have been in the hospital if not for the negligence of the intoxicated driver. The question is whether the drunk driver should be liable for the wrong limb amputation.

Generally speaking, this type of case might result in the drunk driver being liable for the surgeon's medical malpractice at the hospital. The evaluation of proximate cause usually is based on whether the ultimate harm was a reasonably foreseeable risk of the defendant's negligent conduct. When a person decides to drive while intoxicated, the risk that a drunk driving accident victim will receive substandard medical care at the hospital could well be considered a foreseeable outcome.

The example above was a hypothetical example, but it is helpful to consider a real example of how proximate cause can impact a personal injury case:

Medical Malpractice (Georgia Clinic v. Stout)

An elderly woman with an arthritic knee went to a hospital and received an injection from a multi-dose vial. The shot was administered under non-sterile conditions, including inadequate hand washing facilities, lack of a sterile field, and improper infection controls. The woman's knee became infected with methicillin-sensitive staphylococcus aureus (MSSA). There was no dispute about the source of the infection because four other patients injected from the same multi-dose vial also developed MSSA infections.

The woman experienced horrific pain and became increasingly depressed. Although the doctors treated the woman's MSSA infection, they ignored her depression. Tragically, the woman eventually took her own life by plunging from a 14th story hospital window. Her suicide note indicated that she simply could not endure the pain caused by the infection any longer. The Appellate Court upheld a wrongful death jury verdict for the woman's family/estate in the amount of $1.15 million. Sometimes the intentional act of third party will sever the causal chain (referred to as a "superseding cause"). However, the court found that the failure to obtain psychological care for a woman who is depressed made the suicide a foreseeable risk.

This case demonstrates the complexity involved in proving proximate cause, which is a necessary element that must be established in any negligence case. If the drunk driver discussed above had caused the woman's trip to the hospital, skilled advocacy from an experienced personal injury lawyer might have resulted in a finding that the drunk driver was the proximate cause of the woman's suicide.  These issues can be incredibly important in ensuring that there are adequate funds and sources of insurance to pay the full value of a claim.

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Legal Experience to Work For Your Case

Atlanta auto accident injury claims can involve complex issues like proximate cause, so you need a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury lawyer. Montlick & Associates's attorneys have been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast for more than thirty years. We provide high quality legal representation to individuals in Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins, and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located, our attorneys are just a phone call away and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at www.montlick.com and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.

Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.