Several weeks ago we began taking a look at the elements of negligence that might be involved in a premises liability lawsuit in Connecticut. Readers may remember that we briefly covered the concepts of duty and breach, and how they were related to the various statuses a visitor on property may have, such as invitee or trespasser. This week we will look at an element that is independent of the status of the visitor: “cause-in-fact.”
Our readers may remember that when we outlined negligence, we touched on two types of causation: cause-in-fact and proximate cause. It is important to first understand why we are discussing causation at all. When someone is injured, it generally is the result of some action or event; that is, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. So, when someone slips and falls there is usually a cause, such as a wet floor, or ice or a piece of lettuce. This is what we mean, in general, when we talk about cause-in-fact. Did what the defendant do or not do actually cause the injury to the victim? In this way it is sometimes termed “but for” causation, as in “but for the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff would not have been injured.” So, if a person is injured because a meteor crushed the city she was in while shopping at the defendant’s store, the defendant’s action was not likely the cause-in-fact of the injury, even if he left a banana peel on the floor.
Cause-in-fact and proximate cause often bleed into each other in negligence cases, and proximate cause is usually the point of contention, as cause-in-fact is usually fairly obvious. However, as with all lawsuits, plaintiffs must prove all the elements of their claim, and people with questions about causation in premises liability lawsuits may need to get more information.