Proximate Cause

Proximate Cause in the United States

Proximate Cause Definition

That which, In a natural and continuous sequence, unbrbken by a new cause, produced an event, and without which that event would not have occurred. For a meaning of it, read Proximate Cause in the Legal Dictionary here.

Practical Information

That which, in a natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by any intervening cause, produces an injury, and without which the injury would not have occurred. For example, the failure to repair a faulty brake in an automobile may be the proximate cause of a subsequent collision. (Revised by Ann De Vries, 1982)

Cause Proximate

Prof.Piero Mognoni, from the Università di Milano, wrote:

“A causal event which was both necessary and sufficient to result in injury. There is some confusion in the field as to the distinction between factual and legal causation. Factual causation is properly called cause in fact or causa sine qua non. Legal causation is sometimes refered to as proximate causation. Though a cause be necessary, and thus a cause sine-qua-non it is not always sufficient. Careful use of language here can avoid much confusion. The confusion arises because of complex fact patterns. It can be dispelled with terminological discipline.

While all results require a necessary cause, not all causes are sufficient, and in cases where there are several sufficient causes not all causes are necessary since the other cause/s would be sufficient. For example, imagine a man who takes his two friends hunting. He drives them to the site and leaves. Each of them then negligently shoots the decedent plaintiff mistaking him for a wild animal. Each wound would kill the decedent: each is thus a sufficient cause. However as they are independent causes neither is necessary for the occurrence of the other. As to the driver: his causation is clearly necessar but is itself insufficient. Thus even were he negligent there would be no liability for his causation while factual, i.e. sine qua non, is not also legal, i.e. proximate. Both hunters will be held liable jointly and severally but may also have a claim against each other for indemnification.”

Causation in Negligence

Sometimes known as legal cause, proximate cause must be shown as well as actual cause, so that an act of the defendant will not result in liability if the consequences of the negligent act are too remote or unforeseeable.

This is proximate cause: a cause that is not too remote or unforseeable.

Suppose that the person who was injured was not one whom a reasonable person could have expected to be harmed. Such a situation was presented in one of the most famous US tort cases, Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad (Section 7.5 “Cases”), which was decided by Judge Benjamin Cardozo. Although Judge Cardozo persuaded four of his seven brethren to side with his position, the closeness of the case demonstrates the difficulty that unforeseeable consequences and unforeseeable plaintiffs present. (1)

Meaning of Proximate Cause

In plain or simple terms, Proximate Cause means: What made it happen.



  1. “Business and the Legal Environment”, by Don Mayer, Daniel M. Warner and George J. Siedel.

See Also

See: Direct And Proximate Cause in this Legal Encyclopedia
See: Direct And Proximate Cause definition in the Law Dictionary

Proximate Cause meaning

Synonym for legal cause or legal causation. See: Causation

Wisniewski v. Great Atlantic & Pac. Tea Co,, 226 Pa.Super. 574, 323 A.2d 744, 748.
Herron v. Smith Bros., 116 Cal.App. 518, 2 P.2d 1012, 1013.

In other Languages

In French: cause proche / cause prochaine. événement anormal se trouvant le plus proche de l´événement accidentel dans une chaîne causal.

In Italian: causa prossimale.
In Spanish: causa próxima.

Proximate Cause: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Proximate Cause. This part provides references, in relation to Proximate Cause, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Proximate Cause by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Proximate Cause and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Proximate Cause or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Proximate Cause and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Proximate Cause. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Proximate Cause should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Proximate Cause when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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