Copyright

Proximate Cause: Definition, Examples & Criminology

Proximate Cause: Definition, Examples & Criminology
Coming up next: Lex Talionis: Definition & History

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Proximate Cause & Causation
  • 1:42 Criminology
  • 2:32 Examples
  • 4:21 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Brittany McKenna

Brittany is a licensed attorney who specializes in criminal law, legal writing, and appellate practice and procedure.

Proximate cause is a legal concept that relates to the connection between an injury and the event that caused the injury. This lesson discusses the basic definition of proximate cause and provides some examples of the concept.

Proximate Cause and Causation

Proximate cause relates to the relationship between an event and an injury. In the context of the law, there must be a sufficient relationship between an event (or act) and a resulting injury in order to prove legal responsibility (known as 'liability'). This concept is known as causation.

There are two types of causation: cause-in-fact causation and proximate cause.

Cause-in-fact causation can be best described as a 'but-for' chain reaction: But for the action, the injury would not have occurred. For example, but for Jane turning left at the red light, the car crash would not have happened.

While cause-in-fact causation is a relatively straightforward concept, proximate cause is harder to define. If someone suffers an injury that they believe was caused by another person's actions, the injured party (the plaintiff) may want to sue the actor (the defendant) for damages like medical bills or lost wages. But in order to prevail in court, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant is liable for his injuries. The same concept applies in a criminal prosecution - that is, the government must prove that the defendant caused the victim's injury or death. This is where proximate cause comes into play.

The proximate cause of an injury is the event or act closely related to the injury. This doesn't mean that the act in question must be the closest in time to the injury. Instead, it must be the primary, or predominant, cause of the injury. In order to prove that a defendant is liable for the plaintiff's injury, there must be proof that the defendant's action was the proximate cause of the injury. Since any action can set off a long sequence of unforeseeable consequences, proximate cause limits the scope of a defendant's liability.

Criminology

The most common way to determine proximate cause is by asking yourself the following question: was the victim's injury a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's action? If the answer is 'yes,' then you can conclude that the act was the proximate cause of the injury. This is known as the foreseeability test for proximate cause.

When you think of proximate cause, imagine a row of dominoes. When the first domino is tipped, it knocks over the second domino, which knocks over the third, and so on. Tipping the first domino was the proximate cause of the falling of the second domino - it represents the most closely related event. As more and more dominoes fall, it becomes harder to attribute the chain reaction solely to the first domino.

Proximate cause is a legal concept used to limit the scope of liability. Otherwise, a seemingly innocent act may result in unlimited liability for any number of unforeseen consequences.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create An Account
Support