but-for cause

Primary tabs

But-for cause, sometimes used interchangeably with actual cause, is a necessary element for both liability in civil cases and a guilty verdict under much of criminal law.

  • In civil cases, but-for cause combines with proximate cause to fulfill the causation requirement of any tort. 
  • In criminal cases, but-for cause is generally sufficient to establish causation, though some jurisdictions also allow proving causation through alternative theories.
    • See but-for test for more detailed information.
    • Similar to civil law, 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]