Comparative Negligence, Proximate Cause, and Intervening Causes in WV Car Accident Law

What is the importance of “comparative negligence”, “proximate cause”, and “intervening causes” in West Virginia Car Accident Law?

“Comparative negligence” comes into play when both parties have failed to act reasonably – for example, when someone speeding in dense fog hits another car that had no headlights on. In a situation where each party has some degree of negligence in causing an accident, the responsibility to the other person is reduced by one’s own degree of negligence. In the example above, the driver going too fast in the fog may be 60% negligent and bear 60% of the liability, while the driver without headlights may bear 40% of the negligence and be 40% liable.

“Proximate cause” is an act which sets off a natural and continuous sequence of events that produces injury. Without the act, no injury would have resulted. Any time you act, you start a series of natural and continuous events to occur (simple cause and effect, like when you touch the surface of still water and ripples are created). Responsibility for an injury lies with the negligent act that produced the injury. For example, suppose you throw a ball that rolls down a hill; after the ball rolls down the hill, a stranger picks it up and throws it through a window, causing the glass to shatter; the glass shards hit a woman, cutting her arm. In this example, although you caused the ball’s initial movement, your act is not the proximate cause of the injury to the woman sitting next to the window. The stranger’s act is the proximate cause of her injury, and he should be the one to pay for her medical treatment.

An “intervening cause” alters the natural and continuous series of events that follows. When an intervening cause is present, the natural chain of events has been changed due to the subsequent act of another, and the first actor may be relieved of responsibility for an injury. In the example above, the act of the stranger picking up the ball and throwing it through the window is an intervening cause which relieves you from the responsibility for injury which may have occurred as a result of your act. The responsibility shifts, and the stranger’s act becomes the proximate cause of her injury.

To bear responsibility for injury to others in a car accident, your negligent action (or failure to act) must be the proximate cause of the injury, without any intervening causes interrupting the natural sequence of events.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Car Accident Attorney.


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