Published on:

The Importance of Proximate Cause in the Context of a Chain Reaction Motorcycle Accident

This is the house that Jack built.

This is the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built.

This is the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built . . . .

Excerpt from the Nursery Rhyme “This Is the House That Jack Build”

Most people have heard this nursery rhyme which describes a long convoluted causal chain.  While this might seem line nothing more than a clever nursery rhyme, the principle of a chain reaction of events like this constitutes a real issue that arises in many personal injury lawsuits involving collisions.  The issue that often must be addressed in this context is whether the “cause” blamed for a crash and resulting injuries is too remote in the chain of events or time to impose liability.  In this blog post, our Miami motorcycle injury lawyers examine the issue of “proximate cause’ in the context of a chain reaction motorcycle accident decision.

A necessary element in proving the negligence of the other party in a motorcycle accident lawsuit is causation.  However, the principle of causation has two facets in the context of a personal injury claim: (1) cause-in-fact (sometimes referred to as “but for” causation); and (2) legal causation.  While cause-in-fact generally refers to causation in the ordinary sense the term as the first event, act, or omission playing a substantial factor in causing an accident, such that the accident would not have occurred if not for the first event.  While the concept of proximate cause is extremely complicated and nuanced, the legal doctrine basically refers to the foreseeability of the injury.

A case from the North Dakota Supreme Court provides an example of the application of the principle of proximate cause to a chain reaction motorcycle accident.  According to court documents, the plaintiff was driving home from an event for motorcycle enthusiast while intoxicated and exceeding the speed limit.  The rider lost control of his bike on a hairpin curve and ended up suffering fatal injury when he crashed into a ditch.  A few minutes after the initial motorcycle accident, the highway patrol had removed the body of the deceased rider, but the bike was left by the side of the road.  While a highway patrol officer was posted east of the first crash to warn westbound traffic, no officer was positioned to warn eastbound traffic.  The plaintiff approached the curve from the eastbound direction then was confronted with a mobile home stopped in the roadway as the 2nd motorcyclist approached the curve. Because traffic was approaching in the other lane, the rider slammed on the brakes in an attempt not to run into the rear of the motor-home, but he was unsuccessful.

The second motorcyclist filed a lawsuit against the estate of the rider that died in the first crash.  The complaint alleged that the negligence of the first rider was the proximate cause of the second motorcycle accident.  The estate defended against the lawsuit by contending that the actions of the highway patrol in managing the accident scene and failing to provide a warning to eastbound traffic constituted a “superseding” cause.  A superseding cause essentially refers to an unforeseeable intervening act that breaks the legal chain of causation.

In response to a motion for summary judgment filed by the estate, the court initially noted that the question of proximate cause typically is a question of fact to be determined by the jury.  However, the court noted that the lack of debris in the roadway, law enforcement control of the accident scene, and the substantial amount of time that passed were such overwhelming facts that the first rider was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Serious Injury and Wrongful Death Victims and Families

While this blog post has discussed some basic aspects of proximate cause, this is a very complex and nuanced legal concept that varies based on the jurisdiction.  This is one of the complex legal issues in many personal injury cases, so a full discussion is beyond the scope of this blog post.   Your experienced Miami personal injury attorney can help you navigate this type of challenging issue.  Our lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano offer the assistance clients need to pursue the results they desire.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

Contact Information