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Whose Fault Is It Anyway? Intervening Acts and the First Negligent Party’s Exposure

Dexter Evans

AmbulanceYou stop your car to render aid to the parties involved in an accident. You are acting as the ultimate Good Samaritan. As you are helping people in need, a negligent driver is not paying attention to the road and strikes you and now you are the party in need of help. Clearly, the person that hit you is liable for your injuries. But what about the person who caused the first accident which made you get out of your car and be more susceptible to injury in the first place?

In proving your personal injury case, one of the elements you must prove is proximate cause. This is a question of whether a defendant is the legal cause of someone’s injury. Illinois Courts have found that a driver causing an accident which in turn caused a traffic jam could be partially liable for the negligent act of another driver colliding with a car stopped due to the traffic jam. Typically, whether the first negligent party should be held liable is a question of fact for a jury to determine.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals enunciated a set of factors to consider in evaluating whether the first negligent party can be liable for an injury that was set in motion by his or her initial negligent act. First, was there a significant lapse in time? The more time that goes by, the less likely the first negligent party will be liable for the subsequent act. Secondly, whether the collision or force caused by the first negligent party continued in active operation up to the injury. In other words, was it a chain reaction? Thirdly, was the act of the subsequent negligent party extraordinary? The more extraordinary or unforeseeable the act, the less likely the first negligent party will be liable for the subsequent negligent act. Finally, was the intervening negligent act a common reaction to the situation created by the initial negligent party? If so, then it is more likely that the second negligent act can be at least partially attributable to the first negligent party.

The question is why any of this matters. For any seasoned personal injury attorney, the answer is simple: insurance coverage. If the party that hit you either had no insurance or minimal coverage, looking to the earlier negligent driver which later led to your accident may be the only way in which you can be fully compensated and made whole for your injury. Speaking with an attorney experienced in handling personal injury cases and dealing with insurance coverage issues is an important first step in determining all of the potential defendants (and insurance policies) available to compensate you for the damages you have suffered.

Photo credit: CHICAGO TRIBUNE

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