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  • Andrew Littlejohn Johnson

What is Proximate Cause

In South Carolina tort law, a plaintiff is required to show:

  1. A duty owed

  2. A breach of that duty

  3. Causation

  4. Damages

An example of a duty owed is that a driver owes other drivers a duty not to drive at unreasonably fast conditions. An example of a breach of that duty is a driver who speeds. Examples of damages are medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, worry, embarrassment, and so much more.

What is Causation

Causation has a two-prong requirement. You must show specific and proximate causes:

Specific Cause (cause in fact): the defendant’s action or inaction caused the injury; lawyers typically use the phrase “but for,” as in "but for the defendant’s conduct, the plaintiff’s injury would not have occurred." If other breaches occurred (e.g., two speeding drivers), the plaintiff must show that the certain defendant’s actions played a substantial role in causing plaintiff’s injuries.

Proximate Cause: the damage to the plaintiff has a reasonable relationship to the defendant's action or inaction. Proximate cause comes down to foreseeability. Is it foreseeable that the defendant’s actions would have caused the plaintiff’s injury. For example, if plaintiff is injured by a speeding defendant, it’s not foreseeable that the plaintiff would be injured by a treating doctor’s later medical malpractice. However, it would be reasonable to assume the plaintiff would sustain a brain injury after hitting his/her head on the steering wheel.

Foreseeability may come from different types of evidence, including a defendant's own testimony. Questions we like to ask defendants in depositions include:

  • What kind of things can happen if a driver drives too fast

  • Who can be put at risk by a speeding driver

  • What kind of injuries can result from a driver speeding into another car

These all flow into one point: the resulting damage to the plaintiff was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions.

Why Does It Matter

This is just one small example of why having an experienced South Carolina personal injury attorney can be helpful: it is crucial to know what questions to ask and how to get the requisite information for your case. If you are ready for a free and confidential consultation with attorney Andrew Littlejohn Johnson, give him call or email him today.


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