An intervening cause absolves the original defendant of liability if the cause is independent and unforeseeable, and generally presents a question for a jury. In short, an intervening cause is where a subsequent action by a subsequent defendant occurs. While this can remove some of the liability from the original defendant, since Florida is a pure comparative fault jurisdiction, the plaintiff will still be able to recover in full from either or both of the defendants. This is one of more the complicated aspects of causation so an example will help explain this best.
In the Truck & Trailer Sales Corp. case, there was a multiple vehicle collision on a foggy highway. Truck & Trailer Sales Corp. v. Carolina Freight Carriers Corp., 500 So.2d 177 (Fla. 1st DCA 1986). The first accident occurred when appellant’ tractor-trailer rear-ended a vehicle that had slowed because of the fog. Id. At 178. The impact caused the material being carried by the tractor-trailer to be spread across the highway. Id. At 178. The driver of this tractor-trailer did little to warn oncoming drivers of the material that now laid across the road. Id. At 178. This accident was then followed by subsequent accidents where 3 more rear-end collisions occurred. Id. At 178. The original driver was held by the jury to be 25% liable for the cost of all damages related to the collisions. Id. At 178. This is the perfect example of an intervening cause because it shows that the original defendant can end up being liable for the damages of subsequent defendants as well as the damages related to the plaintiff.
In a more general way, suppose that a defendant rear ends a plaintiff, injures the plaintiff, and then the plaintiff, while at the hospital, receives reckless healthcare. This reckless healthcare further injures the plaintiff. In this scenario, the defendant who rear ended the plaintiff would be liable for the injuries that they directly caused the plaintiff AND potentially the damages caused by the hospital’s recklessness. While this would be a matter for the jury to determine, the doctrine of intervening cause would permit such liability.
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