intervening cause

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An event that occurs after a party's improper or dangerous action and before the damage that could otherwise have been caused by the dangerous act, thereby breaking the chain of causation between the original act and the harm to the injured person, is known as an “intervening cause.” The presence of an intervening cause can mean that the person who started the chain of events may no longer be considered responsible for damages to the injured person since the original action is no longer the proximate cause. For example, in the Ohio state case State v. Smith, the defendant punched the victim in the head, and the victim hit head on a nearby car and then the pavement. On being rushed to the hospital for his head injuries, the victim refused to get a CAT scan, but his head injuries persisted. On returning home, he continued to feel sick and confused, and failed to take his insulin. The victim died days after the punch. The court did not, however, find that the victim’s failure to take his insulin was an intervening cause, since the punch caused the victim to fail to take his medicine through the mental injuries. The defendant was thus guilty of homicide.

[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]