Court Discusses “Intervening Cause” Doctrine in Recent Personal Injury Lawsuit

When someone is injured or killed due to the negligent act of another party, the injured party or their family may seek compensation for their injury or loss through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. While there are some differences between these two types of claims, they both require that a plaintiff be able to establish that the named defendant’s actions caused the accident that resulted in the injury or death.

HighwayThe element of causation is one of the most contested elements in Washington, D.C. personal injury cases. In part, this is because the underlying legal doctrine is complex, and each case must be considered on its specific facts. Additionally, even if a defendant is found to have begun a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the injury or death, the defendant can avoid liability by showing that an intervening act “severed” the causative chain. A recent case illustrates how another party’s actions can be deemed an intervening cause, preventing a defendant from being held liable.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs were the parents of a young man who was admitted to the defendant hospital after he started to hear voices and hallucinate. The doctors at the defendant hospital diagnosed the plaintiffs’ son with obsessive-compulsive disorder and planned on discharging the young man later that day. The plaintiffs, concerned about their son’s wellbeing, asked if there was anything else that they could do. The doctors told them that they should make an appointment at a mental health facility.

The plaintiffs asked the doctors to call and make an appointment for them, and the doctors did so. However, the appointment was made at a facility that was some distance from the plaintiffs’ home, so the plaintiffs called another facility and made an appointment on their own. As the plaintiffs were transporting their son to the appointment, the young man opened the car door and ran out into the highway, where he was struck by another vehicle and killed.

The plaintiffs filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant hospital, arguing that the doctors’ decision to discharge their son resulted in his death. The defendant argued that the plaintiffs’ own actions constituted an intervening cause. The trial court rejected the defendant’s argument, finding that in order for the doctrine of intervening cause to apply, the actions constituting the intervening cause must have been “wrongful,” and here the plaintiffs’ actions in transporting their son to his appointment were not so.

On appeal, the case was reversed in favor of the defendant hospital. The appellate court explained that in order to constitute an intervening cause, there is no requirement that an act be wrongful or otherwise against the law. Instead, in order to establish an act was an intervening cause, a party must show that the act was the proximate cause of the injury or death and that the act was not foreseeable by the defendant.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Washington, D.C. car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Washington, D.C. personal injury law can be very complex, especially when multiple parties are involved. And in Washington, D.C., under the doctrine of contributory negligence, accident victims who are found to be even the slightest bit at fault for the accident will likely be precluded from recovering for their injuries. This makes the involvement of a dedicated Washington, D.C. personal injury attorney imperative to a case’s success. To learn more about Washington, D.C. accident law, and to schedule a free appointment with an attorney to discuss your case, call 410-654-3600 today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Permits Premises Liability Case to Proceed over Defense Summary Judgment Motion, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, October 24, 2017

Government Liability for Washington, D.C. Accidents, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, October 10, 2017

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