Close Enough for Recovery: Understanding Proximate Cause

From time to time, a client who has been injured in an accident will ask if it is possible to recover for losses sustained in a second event that, in his/her opinion, would have never happened but for the initial accident. Confused? Let me illustrate with an example:

Mr. X, a diabetic, is injured when Mrs. Y runs a red light and slams into the side of his car. He is taken to the hospital where he is diagnosed with a sprained ankle and a badly bruised right leg. After being thoroughly checked out, he is discharged to home with a prescription for pain medications. Mr. X, who has avoided many of the typical health problems associated with diabetes by eating right and exercising every day, is in too much pain to engage in his daily walking routine. A week later, he begins having severe chest pain and shortness of breath. He is rushed to the hospital where he is diagnosed with a blood clot in his lungs.  His doctor tells him that while his diabetes certainly placed him at higher risk for developing a blood clot, this medical crisis can probably be attributed to his extensive bruising as well as to all the sitting and lying around he has  been doing for the past week.

So, based on this illustration, should Mrs. Y be held responsible for having caused Mr. X’s pulmonary embolism in addition to his sprained ankle and bruised leg? Just how far does Mrs. Y’s liability extend as a result of the accident?

A Link in an Unbroken Chain of Events

These questions go to the heart of what is known as “proximate cause”, an issue that legal scholars and jurists have been debating vigorously for the last hundred years. Basically, proximate cause is an event that is tied closely enough to the initial injury or loss so as to be held as the primary cause. Proximate cause can be separated by time and distance from the initial act so long as the injury is a foreseeable, direct and uninterrupted result that would not have occurred had it not been for the first event. Think of proximate cause as a vital link in an unbroken chain of events that could not exist were it not for that first link.

Proximate Cause and Pre-Existing Conditions

Often proximate cause comes up in situations where the injured party has a pre-existing condition, such as in Mr. X’s case with diabetes. One might argue that the diabetes—not the accident—caused Mr. X’s blood clot; however, the law does not discriminate between sick and healthy, weak and strong when assigning liability. If a defendant’s negligent actions cause injury to someone who has a physical disability, the defendant does not get off the hook just because the plaintiff has a pre-existing condition, even though that condition predisposes him/her to suffering a more severe injury than might have occurred in a healthy person.

If you’ve followed me this far, you may be asking other questions, such as: Does the hospital bear any responsibility for Mr. X’s embolism? Shouldn’t the doctors have anticipated that he might develop a blood clot? What responsibility did Mr. X bear for the pulmonary embolism; after all, he—far more than Mrs. Y—knew the risks associated with being diabetic. Shouldn’t he have followed up with his primary care doctor to prevent any complications?

Recovering for Proximate Cause in Missouri

These are the same type of questions that courts have been asking for years in trying to wrestle with the complicated and sometimes murky issue of proximate cause. Nonetheless, Missouri has ample case law precedence in the area o f proximate cause and has established strong guidelines to help juries determine liability in such cases.

If you or a loved one has incurred additional loss or harm that you believe would have never occurred were it not for the initial accident, you need to consult a trial lawyer with experience in understanding the complexities and relevant case law related to proximate cause. You shouldn’t be expected to absorb the physical, emotional and financial costs of a second injury on top of what you have already suffered! Contact top trial lawyer, Chris Dixon to get the full justice and maximum compensation to which you are entitled. Call one of our Top 100 Trial lawyers at: 314-409-7060 or 855-40-CRASH (toll free).

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