NEGLIGENCE Part 3: Proximate Cause

April 5th, 2016


Part 3: Proximate Cause

By:  Benjamin A. McBride and Heather Rooney McBride


In order to recover damages on a theory of negligence, a claimant must show that: (1) a duty existed between the parties, (2) a breach of that duty occurred, (3) the breach of that duty was the proximate cause of the resulting injury, and (4) actual damages resulted.  Hoover’s Dairy, Inc. v. Mid-America Dairymen, Inc./Special Products, Inc. 700 S.W.2d 426 (Mo. 1985).  In Parts 1 and 2 of this article series, we discussed what creates a duty to others and whether a breach of that duty has occurred.  In Part 3: Promixate Cause, we will discuss whether there was a causal connection between the duty breached and the resulting injuries.


To recover under a theory of negligence, a breach of a duty and injury sustained therefrom is not enough; there must be a causal connection between the negligent act of the tortfeasor and the injury sustained.  Sirna v. APC Bldg. Corp., 730 S.W.2d 561 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 1987).  To resolve this issue, the Courts are charged with determining whether “proximate cause” exists (the legal term used to determine a causal connection).  Proximate cause has been defined by the Supreme Court as follows:


The practical test of proximate cause is generally considered to be whether the negligence of the defendant is that cause or act which the injury was the natural or probable consequence…. Thus, from the essential meaning of proximate cause arises the principle that in order for an act to constitute the proximate cause of an injury, some injury, if not the precise on in question, must have been reasonably foreseeable.  Krause v. U.S. Truck Co., Inc., 787 S.W.2d 708 (Mo. 1990).


In furtherance of the proximate cause element, the Supreme Court has adopted a “but for” test used to determine whether a defendant’s conduct is the cause of the injury.  Callahan v. Cardinal Glennon Hosp., 863 S.W.2d 852 (Mo. 1993).  Essentially, the test is whether the injury or event would have occurred without defendant’s conduct.  If not, and the defendant’s conduct is the source of the injury or event, then actual and legal causation have been established; the only remaining factor to be considered is the nature and extent of a person’ injuries to determine the appropriate damages.