CAUSATION IN A PREMISES LIABILITY CASE
Causation in a premises liability case is difficult to prove. If a duty of care is imposed, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving a substantial link or nexus between the breach or omission and the injury. Not only must the plaintiff prove that the defendant breached its duty, the plaintiff must also prove that the breach caused the injury. The defendant property owner can be found liable if the plaintiff can demonstrate that the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care and that this failure was the “proximate cause” of the injury.
Causation is an important element that must be satisfied in order for the plaintiff to prevail. Proximate cause means a cause, which in a natural and continuous sequence causes an event. This is a factor that is called the producing cause, meaning did X cause Y? Also, in order to be the proximate cause of an event it must be foreseeable. So, if you have a cause in fact, plus foreseeability, then legal proximate causation is satisfied.
In order to prove causation, the plaintiff is put in a conundrum to testify that they directly observed what actually made them fall. This lends itself to the defense argument that if the plaintiff saw the danger they should have avoided it and therefore assumed the risk. The ideal facts for a plaintiff to testify as to what made them fall is to testify that after the fact of the fall they turned around and saw the condition. Most often, plaintiff’s attorney will rely on circumstantial evidence to prove that the dangerous condition is what caused the plaintiff to fall. Circumstantial evidence is evidence that proves a fact indirectly. There is no distinction between direct and indirect evidence, and the jury is free to believe or disbelieve any type of evidence.
Furthermore, the defendant’s conduct must be a substantial factor in causing the harm to the plaintiff. The defendant’s conduct must be a factor that a reasonable person would consider to have contributed to the harm. It must be more than a remote or trivial factor. It does not have to be the only cause of the harm. It is important for the plaintiff’s attorney to convey to the jury that any factor which causes harm leads to legal responsibility unless it is so remote or trivial that they should not consider it. The defendant’s conduct also is not required to be the sole factor in causing the harm. Rather, there may be other factors that combined in causing the harm, but if defendant’s conduct also contributed to causing the harm then defendant may be found legally responsible.