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What is 'cause-in-fact' in Illinois personal injury?

The last few weeks, this space has been covering various elements of Illinois negligence cases, as these are the kinds of cases that are most often seen in the context of personal injury. We've covered the basic structure of negligence cases, and the concepts of legal duty and breach thereof. We also touched on the idea of 'reasonable person' in the context of medical malpractice. The next major part of building a personal injury case based on negligence is causation.

Causation in a negligence case as careful readers may remember, is a two-part inquiry in most contexts. Today, we will discuss the first part of this inquiry, known as 'cause-in-fact' or 'but for' causation. This is usually the simpler of the two types of causation, as it deals generally with determining what are the direct causes of an event or injury.

To prove cause-in-fact, the plaintiff needs to show that if not for the defendant's action (or lack thereof), the plaintiff's injuries would not have occurred. For this part of the causation inquiry, it doesn't matter how many intervening events happened, as long as, without the defendant's negligence, the injury wouldn't have happened. For example, when a car runs a stop sign and crashes into another vehicle, it can be said that the driver of the first car is responsible for the injuries sustained by those inside the vehicle as well as a pedestrian who was passing by and was hit with flying glass. This is because the action of running the stop sign is said to have caused the pedestrian's injuries in this sense, since except for the accident that occurred because of the negligent action of failing to stop, the pedestrian would not have been hurt.

While this type of causation may seem simple, it is important to remember that it is still only one element of the negligence inquiry, and it is sometimes difficult to separate it from the other part of causation, known as 'proximate cause.' We will likely discuss this element in a future post.

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