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Causation In Personal Injury Cases: Actual Cause, Duty-risk, And Foreseeability

Each year, between 300,000 and 500,000 personal injury cases are filed in the United States. Approximately 173,040 of these cases are due to deaths caused by accidents. Personal injuries harm your physical and mental health. Louisiana law provides tools to help persons injured in accidents caused by wrongdoers.

Causation In Personal Injury Cases
Causation In Personal Injury Cases

In Louisiana, in order to be entitled to compensation for injuries suffered as a result of an accident, an injured person must be able to show that the wrongdoer caused the person’s injuries. In order to prove causation, important legal concepts of actual causation, duty-risk, and foreseeability must be analyzed and understood. These concepts, and their application to personal injury cases, are discussed below.

What is causation in a personal injury case?

To prove causation in a personal injury case, it must be shown that the plaintiff’s injuries resulted from the defendant's wrongful conduct. More specifically, to show legal causation under Louisiana law, a plaintiff must prove (1) the defendant's acts or omissions were the actual cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, and (2) the defendant owed a duty of care that extended to the plaintiff under the circumstances (i.e., the risk) involving the accident.

Depending on the case and its complexity, causation can exist on multiple levels. Therefore, causation is a critical element in a personal injury lawsuit.

Actual cause

Actual cause, also called “cause in fact,” is shown in either of two ways: (1) “But For” causation, by showing that but for the defendant’s wrongdoing the plaintiff would not have been injured; or (2) “Substantial Factor” causation, by showing that the defendant’s wrongdoing was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injuries. In either case, a chain of causation must be drawn between the defendant’s wrongdoing and the plaintiff’s injury in order for actual causation to be proved.

Duty-risk and foreseeability

In addition to the actual cause, a plaintiff must prove that a defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff and that the scope of such duty extended to the injury suffered by this plaintiff in the manner suffered by the plaintiff. In other words, a plaintiff must show that a defendant had a duty to the plaintiff that was breached and caused harm. In addition, the plaintiff must show that the risk of harm was within the scope of protection afforded by the breach of duty.

The duty of care is an objective standard usually measured by the conduct of a “reasonable person.” Sometimes duty may be established by statute. In limited circumstances (under the legal doctrine of Res Ipsa Loquitur), breach of duty may be shown by the mere fact that an accident occurred.

The scope of the duty/scope of the risk is a complex and important concept. Basically, if a defendant's acts or omissions have too little to do with the plaintiff's injuries, the defendant cannot be the legal cause of the plaintiff's injuries. However, it is often not apparent what triggered a chain of events that led to an accident. In Louisiana, the concepts of the scope of duty/scope of risk are used in order to determine whether a defendant will be held legally responsible for a plaintiff’s injuries.

The most important element in this analysis is foreseeability. A defendant will be held liable if the defendant’s conduct created a foreseeable risk and the plaintiff was a foreseeable victim of such risk. In some cases, if a plaintiff’s injuries are “easily associated” with a defendant’s wrongdoing, the defendant may be held liable even though the plaintiff’s injuries were not strictly foreseeable. In cases where the scope of duty is unclear, Louisiana courts will apply policy factors as part of their analysis.

However, a chain of causation may be broken (and a defendant will not be held liable) if there is a superseding cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. A superseding cause is an intervening act that is so great and so unexpected that will justify relieving the defendant of responsibility for his or her wrongful acts. For example, intervening events such as an act of God (i.e., a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane) or an unexpected criminal act, will be considered superseding causes.

Damages available in Louisiana for injuries caused by a defendant’s wrongful conduct

Under the Louisiana Civil Code CC 2315, Chapter 3, Article 2315. Liability for acts causing damages:

Every act whatever of man that causes damages to another obliges him by whose fault it happened to repair it.
Damages may include loss of consortium, service, and society, and shall be recoverable by the same respective categories of persons who would have had a cause of action for wrongful death of an injured person. Damages do not include costs for future medical treatment, services, surveillance, or procedures of any kind unless such treatment, services, surveillance, or procedures are directly related to a manifest physical or mental injury or disease. Damages shall include any sales taxes paid by the owner on the repair or replacement of the property damaged.


Injuries can cause significant harm to a person and their family. If you think about it, there are reportedly about 300,000 to about 500,000 people involved in personal injury cases. If you have been affected by this as well, you should contact us today.

Contact Us Today

Gaynell Williams LLC Attorney at Law offers a free initial consultation to discuss your case. The first consultation can be in person or it can be virtual, on the Internet. Call Gaynell Williams today at (504) 302-2462 for a free consultation as soon as possible. We will work around your schedule. New Orleans lawyers Gaynell Williams LLC Attorney at Law have offices in Gretna and Downtown New Orleans by appointment only.

This information has been provided for informational purposes only and is not intended and should not be construed to constitute legal advice. Please consult your attorney in connection with any specific situation under Louisiana law and the applicable state or local laws that may affect your legal rights.

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