Most personal injury cases in New York are based on negligence claims. Examples of injury cases involving negligence claims include cases involving motor vehicle crashes, medical malpractice, birth injuries, slips & falls, and nursing home abuse.

Recovering compensation for a personal injury requires that you prove another party caused your injury and damages. Proving negligence claims involves establishing the chain of causation.

What is the Chain of Causation?

The chain of causation sounds very complicated. However, it is merely the links between each of the elements of a negligence claim. You can think of the chain of causation as a chain of paper circles.

Each “link” in the chain is dependent upon the link before and the link after. If a link does not exist or breaks, you cannot connect the beginning of the chain to the end of the chain.

In a personal injury case, you must “link” the first legal element of negligence to the final legal element of negligence. If you cannot complete the chain, you cannot prove negligence. If you cannot prove negligence, you cannot recover compensation for your injury.

The legal elements of a negligence claim that you must connect in the chain of causation are:

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of Duty of Care
  • Hazard or Accident
  • Injury
  • Damages

If you can link each legal element 

Establishing the Chain of Causation

Let’s look at a car accident case to examine each of the links in the chain of causation.

Duty of Care

The first link in the chain is establishing a duty of care. The person must owe you a duty of care to be liable for damages caused by an accident.

A duty of care is a requirement to act with the same or similar care, prudence, and watchfulness that a reasonable person would exercise in the same or similar situation. 

In our example, all drivers owe a duty of care to operate their vehicle in a manner that does not place others on the road in danger.

Breach of Duty of Care

A breach is a violation of a promise, obligation, or law. You can breach an obligation by performing a specific act or through an omission. 

In a car accident case, the breach of the duty of care could involve a variety of actions such as:

Any violation of a traffic law could be considered a breach of duty. The above actions increase the risk of a car accident. However, proving that the driver breached the duty of care is not sufficient to prove fault.

You must link the breach of the duty of care to a hazard, dangerous condition, or accident. 

Hazard or Accident

A hazard is a danger or risk that has a probability of causing injury to another person. An accident is an unexpected or unintended event that can cause injury to a person. You must link the breach directly to the hazard or accident. 

In a car accident case, you must provide evidence that links the driver’s actions to the car wreck. For example, a driver ran a red light and crashed into another vehicle. The vehicle in the intersection had the right of way. 

The driver who ran the red light breached the duty of care by acting in a manner that was inconsistent with prudence and watchfulness. The breach of duty created a dangerous situation that directly caused the collision. 

Injury

The next link is between the accident and your injuries. Being involved in a car accident can cause numerous injuries, such as broken bones, brain damage, amputations, chest injuries, spinal cord injuries, and organ damage

You were not injured before the collision. Through medical records, you should be able to link your injuries to the car wreck. 

Damages

The final link is between your injuries and damages. Damages in a personal injury case may include financial damages, such as loss of income, medical bills, property damage, and other out-of-pocket expenses. 

You need proof of your financial damages. Evidence may include copies of medical bills, receipts for expenses, and evidence of loss of income.

Damages may also include “pain and suffering” damages or non-economic damages. These damages include your physical pain, emotional distress, disfigurement, impairments, and loss of enjoyment of life. 

It can be difficult to prove pain and suffering. Creating a journal detailing your pain and how your injuries impacted your daily life can help when valuing pain and suffering damages

Can I File an Injury Claim Without a Lawyer?

The example above is a simple situation. Creating the chain of causation is simple. However, most personal injury cases are not as simple.

Proving fault and liability may require a comprehensive accident investigation. Gather evidence can be time-consuming and costly. A personal injury lawyer can handle all aspects of the case, including investigations, gathering evidence, documenting damages, and creating the chain of causation.