• Video

Examples of Proximate Causation in Tort Law

Professor Richard Epstein discusses different scenarios of proximate causation. Some examples are quite clear in all circumstances - such as someone administering poison to another person, but other examples are more complex and may involve several questions regarding both intent and negligence. https://youtube.com/watch?v=LnQX8JlTRgE


Suppose it turns out that I wished to engage in acts to poison you. One of the things that I can do is simply jam the poison down your throat by force and everybody will say, not withstanding that there's a chemical reaction at the end of this, that it was by the body and to the body. But suppose I don't want to have to fight, you know, what I do is set poison in front of you and I can seal it into some mint tea, so you can't taste it. And under those circumstances now you drink it in ignorance of what's going on. And the question is can the fellow who put the poison inside the pot say “I'm not responsible for the harm, because I didn't make him drink it.” And the answer that everybody in every legal system gives to that question is that given that fact that the person who drank the thing, did so under a fundamental mistake as to the danger, meant that his activity was not voluntary with respect to that risk, so the remote actor is responsible. Change the situation just a little bit and assume the middle party actually knew that it was poisonous, and was not subject to force of any kind or any sort of threat. At that point if he decides to drink it's his own fault because you have assumption of risk. And so, what you now do is you have a system in which you allow recovery for direct harms and you also have recovery for indirect harms. So suppose it turns out that generally speaking somebody runs you down with a truck. And what they point out is while they were riding down the highway they managed to come on a board which was weakened by a third party so that they lost control of the vehicle. And that this was a latent defect in the highway. It is generally been universally held that the party who created the defect in question so that the other fellow ran off the road would in fact be responsible because that hidden defect negated the voluntariness of the particular action in question. It then becomes even more complicated because you assume, suppose that the middle man, if he had paid more attention could have discovered the defect in the road and have avoided the situation. And here the general answer is that the negligence of the intermediate party does not sever causal connection to the remoteness guy, but in effect now there may be some way in which those two parties, the person who ran you off the road and the person who created the dangerous condition have to essentially divide the loss. You take the third case, there is something in the road which is dangerous, somebody sees it and says "Aha, this is perfect cover. I really want to hurt this party." and then he deliberately uses that condition to lose control of the vehicle and hammer the third party. Under these circumstances the general opinion is that the harm is now too remote because the intermediate party had complete control over the situation when it tried to cause a deliberate harm.

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