The question of whether injuries were “proximately caused” by the negligence of another is a complicated question with a long, murky history in Louisiana. However, the analysis found in Vince v. Koontz, 16-521 (La. App. 5 Cir. 2/8/17), — So.3d —- helps to shed light on the issue.
In Vince, the plaintiff contended that the negligence of the defendant driver caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury. At trial, the jury agreed that the defendant acted negligently. However, it also found that the defendant’s conduct was not the “proximate cause” of the plaintiff’s injuries. On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the jury erred because “a finding of negligence mandates a finding of causation.” The court in Vince disagreed, stating that, as a matter of law, a finding of negligence does not necessitate a finding of causation. The Vince court upheld the jury verdict even though the jury received improper instruction on proximate causation.
The jury was informed that a “proximate cause” is “the primary act which produces the accident.” According to Vince, this definition did not describe “proximate causation,” but instead described “cause-in-fact,” one of several elements needed to prove negligence. The question of whether an act of negligence was a cause-in-fact of an injury is a purely factual question. By contrast, proximate causation involves a “mixed question of law and fact” and seeks to determine whether the law was intended to protect this plaintiff from this particular harm under these particular facts.
The Vince court concluded that the jury reached its decision on the legitimate basis that Mr. Koontz’s negligence was not the cause-in-fact of the injuries and, for this reason, affirmed under the manifest error standard of appellate review.