To recover for injuries sustained in an accident, it is vital to prove that the other side did something wrong—usually, some act or omission that was negligent. It is also vital to demonstrate how injured you are, or the “value” of your injuries in the eyes of the law. But there is a middle step that is often overlooked, that is often a source of much debate in personal injury trials: Causation.
What is Causation?
To prove your case, you need to show that another party’s negligence was the cause of the damages you sustained. In many cases, this seems obvious or easy. For example, if a car hits your car from behind and you rupture a disc in your neck, it may seem clear that the other car caused your injury. If a loved one is in a nursing home and suffers an invasive and painful bed sore, it may seem obvious that the nursing home caused the injury.
However, in many cases and situations, causation becomes harder to prove.
One area where causation becomes a hotly contested topic concerns pre-existing injuries. Take the example of a car rear-ending the car in front of it. That victim ends up needing back surgery. This sounds like a clear-cut case. However, what if the person who needed surgery had a long history of back problems that pre-existed the accident? As adults who have lived long and eventful lives, many of us have sustained sports injuries, work injuries, had back pain, suffered from disease, or have seen doctors for back pain.
The defendant in our example would say that your back surgery was not caused by the car rear-ending you. Rather, the defendant would argue it was caused by whatever accidents or trauma you had in the past. Even if you have not sustained an actual accident, but simply had chronic recurring back pain (as so many people do), the defendant may argue that your pain existed before he or she ran into the back of your car.
Experts, including your doctors, may need to be called to testify that your injuries were in fact caused by this accident. If you have ever undergone treatment for back pain, those medical records will be shown to a jury to compare them to your condition after the accident.
Making Injuries Worse
Florida does allow someone to recover damages for the worsening of a pre-existing condition. For example, assume you sustained an injury in high school. For years you have had pain, but were able to work through it and live a productive life. Now, you are rear-ended, and need back surgery.
A victim can legally argue in that situation that while the accident was not the entire cause of the injuries and the disability, it certainly made the condition worse. In legal language, the accident exacerbated the injury that was there previously.
Proving a worsening of a condition requires comparison of a victim’s life, medical condition and treatment from before the accident to after the accident. However, showing exacerbation of a pre-existing injury can be a much easier burden for victims to prove then showing that an accident was the complete cause of disability when the victim has a history of prior injuries.
Causation Problems with Elderly Victims
In many cases, the elderly may sustain an injury that is so traumatic, that it results in another disease or ailment. For example, an elderly person may injure a shoulder in a fall. The trauma, stress, and pain that follows can often cause heart attacks or strokes. Many clients say that their loved ones were “never the same” after an accident.
The defendant will likely argue that while the shoulder problems may be caused by the injury, the heart attack, stroke, or other secondary ailment was not.
Showing that these secondary injuries are caused by the accident can be a difficult burden. There is some research that trauma can lead to heart attacks. However, that science is not uniformly accepted, and it is often easy for a defendant’s witness to say that an elderly person may have sustained a heart attack or stroke anyway, even without having fallen. This argument is made stronger when someone has a pre-existing history of dementia, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other diseases or conditions that could cause a heart attack or stroke.
Causation is a large issue in negligent security cases. Businesses have an obligation to provide negligent security to protect patrons from foreseeable criminal attacks. When that security is not provided, and an attack happens, the business will predictably blame the cause of the injury on the actual criminal.
This seems logical, and can be a persuasive argument in front of a jury. A business may persuasively ask a jury how they could be the cause of a customer’s injury when it was a criminal that actually attacked the victim.
A victim must show that it was foreseeable that a crime would happen, and that it was not a random or isolated event in order to defeat this argument. Victims can win these cases by showing that ample security could have detected the crime or deterred it. This makes the actual cause of the injury the inadequate security, not the criminal.
Recovering for damages sustained in an accident requires proving every part of your injury case. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today for a free consultation to discuss whether you have a personal injury case.