Intervening Acts and Remoteness Lecture

December 08, 2023
Micheal James

Jurisdiction / Tag(s):

Introduction

In law, an intervening act is an event that occurs between the defendant’s negligent act and the plaintiff’s injury. This act can break the chain of causation, meaning that the defendant is not legally responsible for the plaintiff’s injury.

An example of an intervening act would be if a driver carelessly leaves their car parked in a busy intersection, causing another driver to crash into it. If the car then explodes, injuring the other driver, the first driver’s negligence would not be the legal cause of the injury. Instead, the explosion would be considered a superseding cause.

Defining Intervening Acts

Intervening acts can be classified into two main categories: superseding causes and non-superseding causes.

  • Superseding Causes: These are intervening acts that break the chain of causation and prevent the defendant’s negligence from being the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury. For instance, if a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, destroys a building that has been negligently constructed by a contractor, the contractor would not be liable for the damage caused by the hurricane.
  • Non-Superseding Causes: These are intervening acts that do not break the chain of causation. The defendant’s negligence will still be considered the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury, even if there was another contributing factor. For example, if a negligently driven car hits a pedestrian, the driver will still be liable for the injury, even if the pedestrian was also jaywalking.

Types of Intervening Acts

There are several different types of intervening acts that can be considered when determining whether a defendant is liable for a plaintiff’s injury. These include:

  • Acts of God: Natural disasters that are beyond human control, such as earthquakes, floods, and wildfires.
  • Acts of a Third Party: Intentional acts committed by someone other than the defendant, such as assault or battery.
  • Voluntary Intervention of the Plaintiff: Actions taken by the plaintiff that contribute to their own injury, such as failing to follow safety instructions or not taking reasonable care of themselves.
  • Novus Actus Interveniens: This Latin phrase means “new thing intervening” and is used to describe an intervening act that breaks the chain of causation.

Remoteness of Damages

While intervening acts determine whether a defendant is liable for a plaintiff’s injury, the concept of remoteness of damages assesses the extent of the defendant’s liability. This is to determine if the defendant is responsible for all of the plaintiff’s damages or just a portion of them.

The test for remoteness of damages is the “foreseeability test.” This test asks whether the defendant could reasonably have foreseen the type of injury that the plaintiff has suffered. If the injury was not foreseeable, then the defendant will only be liable for a portion of the plaintiff’s damages. For example, if a negligently constructed building collapses, but the collapse also causes an explosion caused by faulty wiring, the contractor would only be liable for the damage caused by the collapse, not the explosion.

Application of Intervening Acts and Remoteness Doctrines

In determining whether an intervening act breaks the chain of causation and the extent of the defendant’s liability, courts will consider various factors, including:

  • Proximity of Time: The closer the intervening act is in time to the defendant’s act, the more likely it is that the intervening act will break the chain of causation. For instance, if a car crash occurs immediately after a negligent driver hits a pedestrian, the intervening act of the crash is more likely to be considered a superseding cause than if the crash occurs hours or days later.
  • Reasonable Foreseeability: If the intervening act was not reasonably foreseeable by the defendant, then it is less likely to break the chain of causation. For example, if a negligently constructed building collapses due to a freak earthquake, the contractor would not be held liable for the collapse, as it was an unforeseeable event.
  • Normal or Unusual Course of Events: If the intervening act was in the normal course of events, then it is more likely to break the chain of causation. However, if the intervening act was unusual or extraordinary, such as a terrorist attack, it is less likely to be considered a superseding cause.
  • Degree of Intervening Act’s Causation: The more severe the intervening act and the greater its contribution to the plaintiff’s injury, the more likely it is to break the chain of causation. For example, if a negligently

Conclusion

The doctrines of intervening acts and remoteness of damages are complex legal principles that play a significant role in tort law, particularly in negligence cases. By understanding these doctrines, courts can make informed decisions about whether a defendant is liable for a plaintiff’s injury.

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