actual cause

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Actual cause is a necessary element for both liability in civil cases and a guilty verdict under much of criminal law. In both civil and criminal cases, actual cause is determined by the but-for cause test; however, some jurisdictions also allow proving actual cause through alternative theories in criminal cases. 

Once actual cause is established, proximate cause must also be established to return a liable/guilty verdict. 

[Last updated in June of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]