In Florida, the third element of a negligence claim is proximate causation. There are two branches of proximate causation that need to be satisfied in order for a plaintiff to prove this element. These branches are actual causation and foreseeability. Actual causation is where the plaintiff’s injury flow from the defendant’s conduct in a sufficiently natural, direct, and continuous way. Foreseeability is whether the defendant’s conduct is likely to have actually caused the plaintiff’s injury. To put it simply, whether it was foreseeable that the defendant’s behavior caused the plaintiff’s injury. These branches are complicated and intertwined so it is necessary to break them up into two separate blogs to fully understand. We will first start with the easier of the two branches: Actual Causation.
In any negligence action, including a car accident, actual causation is proven using the “but for” test. The “but for” test is where there must be such a natural, direct, and continuous sequence between the negligent act and the plaintiff’s injury that it can reasonably be said that but for the defendant’s negligent act, the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred. Applying this test to a real example will make it much clearer.
For this example, the defendant was driving 15 mph over the speed limit and lost control of their vehicle. The defendant crashed into the rear of the plaintiff’s car and the plaintiff has suffered a back injury. When this car accident is put into the “but for” test, it shows that the defendant was actual cause of the injury. The following is how applying the “but for” test to this situation looks: “but for the defendant’s speeding, the plaintiff’s back injury would not have occurred.”
In addition to the “but for” test, there is also the substantial factor test, which applies in situations where the plaintiff’s injury resulted from two or more separate causes and each cause, when taken alone, would still have caused the plaintiff some amount of injury. In this situation, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant’s conduct “more likely than not” caused the alleged injury. A mere possibility of a defendant causing the plaintiff’s injury is not sufficient to support the plaintiff’s claim of negligence.