Personal Injury Law: The Difference Between “Causation In Fact” and “Legal Cause”

Posted on

If you have been injured in an accident in Greenville, SC, you are entitled to sue the wrongdoer for monetary damages to compensate you for your injuries. In order to recover damages, your Greenville SC personal injury lawyers will need to prove the four elements of negligence under South Carolina law: duty, breach of duty, causation and harm.
Wet floor slip injuryAs a hypothetical, if you suffer a slip and fall accident at a Greenville Walmart, you and your slip-and-fall lawyers will need to prove the following issues  at trial:

  1. that the store owed you a duty — such as a duty to keep the floors safe and free from slippery liquids;
  2. that the store breached that duty — by allowing a puddle of slippery liquid to accumulate;
  3. that the store’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of your fall and your injuries; and
  4. that your fall resulted in an actual harm or injury..

In this article we examine some of the legal principles with respect to the third element: causation.

Greenville SC Personal Injury Law: Two Related, But Different, Types Of Causation

South Carolina courts have repeatedly held that “proximate cause” has two related, but different, components: causation in fact and legal cause. See Hurd v. Williamsburg County, 611 S.E.2d 488 (S. Car. Supreme Court 2005).
The first component — “causation in fact” — is proven by establishing that the injury or damage would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s negligence. A jury can be properly instructed in this manner: Causation in fact is “something that produces a natural chain of events which in the end brings about the injury; a direct cause without which the damage would not have occurred.” See Winthrop University v. Pickens Roofing, 791 SE 2d 152 (Ct. App. 2016).
The second component — “legal cause” — is proven by establishing foreseeability. Sometimes — rarely — a person’s act or omission can be the direct cause of injury, but be so wildly unexpected and improbable — so NOT foreseeable — that the law holds that the there has been no wrongdoing or negligence.

Greenville SC Personal Injury Law: Go-Carts and Hoodlums

A South Carolina case involving go-carts and three rowdy hoodlums provides an illustration of a situation where there may be a question about foreseeability or legal cause. See Burnett v. Family Kingdom, Inc., 691 SE 2d 170 (Ct. App. 2010). In that case, the victim and his wife were at an amusement park and were waiting to ride the go-carts. Unlike many amusement rides, the go-carts are not on a fixed track; so the riders can speed up or slow down and can change lanes. Indeed dangerous and rowdy patrons could ram their go-carts into the go-carts of other patrons.
This is what happened in the Family Kingdom case. The victim and his wife got to the front of the line and entered their go-carts. At the same time, three boisterous hoodlums got in three other go-carts. As they all rode around the track, the hoodlums began ramming the husband’s go-cart. Eventually, they caused him to spin off into grassy area in the center of the track whereupon he was rammed by one of the hoodlum’s go-carts and then another.
While this was happening, the husband, the wife and others were yelling at the Family Kingdom employees to stop the ride. According to the testimony, the employees were enjoying the spectacle and encouraging the mayhem. The employees only hit the “ALL STOP” control after the second go-cart hit the husband’s go-cart.
The husband was injured and sued the amusement park for negligence. The husband argued that the duty of care — to keep the patrons of the park safe — was based on a South Carolina statute and that the park breached that duty by allowing the hoodlums to drive their go-carts in the manner in which they did. Family Kingdom defended, partially on the grounds of the second component of the causation element: it was not foreseeable that the hoodlums would drive like that.
The court rejected that argument. The Family Kingdom had an ALL-STOP button which caused all go-carts to cease operating, suggesting that the ride manufacturer foresaw a situation where safety would require all go-carts to be stopped.. Given that the hoodlums were obviously driving dangerously, and given that the husband, the wife and other riders were repeatedly asking the ride operators for assistance, it was more than foreseeable that an accident of some sort would occur if the ride was not stopped. The failure to use the ALL-STOP button was also clearly the “causation in fact” of the husband’s injuries, since the injuries would not have occurred “but for” the failure to press the button..

Greenville SC Personal Injury Attorneys: David R. Price, Jr. P.A.

If you have been injured by the wrong behavior or negligent acts of another, call the proven and courtroom-tested Greenville SC personal injury lawyers at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. Contact our office today via email or by calling 864-271-2636.

Contact Us Today For Your
Free Case Review or call:

(864) 271-2636