February 10, 2015
8. Proximate Cause
The 4th and final step in determining if there has been negligence is to answer the question – was the defendant’s behaviour the proximate cause of the the plaintiff’s damage? In other words, did the defendant’s actions (or inactions) directly lead to the damage or injury?
In many situations this might appear to be obvious. For example, if someone drowns while a lifeguard is inattentive or absent, then the conclusion might be that the lifeguard’s behaviour directly led to the drowning i.e. there is proximate cause.
However, this may not be the whole story. Another way of looking at it is to ask the question: if the plaintiff had acted differently, would the outcome still have been the same? For example, if the plaintiff had been cautioned earlier for running on the pool deck, then the defendant’s lawyers might argue that the plaintiff slipped and fell into the pool as a result of running on the deck. Hence the argument would be that the lifeguard’s behaviour was not the direct cause of the damage, rather the result of the plaintiff’s own actions. We’ll revisit this possibility later under ‘contributory negligence’.
In the next blog, we’ll return to ‘Standard of Care’ since this is the key issue focused on by the courts. What is the standard, and how is it determined?
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