How to Prove “Proximate Causation” in Nevada Injury Cases
In Nevada, you have to prove four “elements” to win a negligence case at trial:
The responsible party (“defendant”) had a duty of care towards you (“plaintiff”);
The defendant breached this duty of care;
The breach of duty actually caused and proximately caused your accident; and
The accident resulted in damages to you.1
The element of “proximate cause” also goes by the term “legal cause.”2 It is the linchpin of every negligence lawsuit because it links the defendant’s wrongful act to your injuries.
How does Nevada law define proximate causation?
Proximate cause exists when:
your injury was the natural and probable result of the defendant’s breach of duty, and
the defendant should have foreseen the injury in light of the circumstances3
The calculation for determining whether proximate cause exists turns on whether there was only one cause or multiple causes of your injury.4
If the defendant’s wrongful act was the sole cause of your injury, then there is a proximate cause if your injury would not have occurred “but for” the defendant’s wrongful act.5
Though if there may have been more than one cause of your injury, then the court switches from the “but for” test to the “substantial factor test“: There is proximate cause if the defendant’s wrongful act was a “substantial factor” in bringing about your injury.6
Example: Ben is driving drunk and has propane in his trunk. Ben hits a cyclist, causing the propane to explode and burn the cyclist. Although the propane was the cause of the burns, Ben’s drunk driving was still a substantial factor in setting into motion the events that caused the burn. Therefore, Ben’s drunk driving was a proximate cause of the cyclist’s injuries.
Had the cyclist in the above example been drunk and not Ben, then Ben’s driving would not have not been a substantial factor in causing the cyclist’s injuries. Ben was driving soberly, and he should not have foreseen that a drunk cyclist would strike him and cause the propane to ignite.
Proximate cause versus actual cause
In order to prevail in a negligence claim, you have to prove both
actual cause and
Actual cause is a much easier concept than the proximate cause. Actual cause is simply the action that instigated the accident.
For example, if a car strikes a pedestrian, the driver’s actions constitute the actual cause of the accident.7
How do I prove proximate causation?
The best methods of proving proximate causation turn on
the unique facts of the case and
the available evidence.
For example, if you were injured in a slip-and-fall accident in a casino, valuable evidence for proving proximate causation would include:
surveillance video of you walking responsibly and slipping anyway;
eyewitnesses who saw the floor was wet at no fault of you;
expert testimony that your shoes did not cause the accident;
expert medical testimony that your injury was indicative of a slip-and-fall; and
your medical records before and after the accident.
Unlike in criminal cases, you do not have to prove your personal injury case beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, you have to prove the case by a preponderance of the evidence.
By a preponderance of the evidence is a much lower standard of proof than beyond a reasonable doubt. It means that it is more likely than not that the defendant is liable.8
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.