Tests of Proximate Cause
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Transcript of Tests of Proximate Cause
The Tests of Legal Cause in
Law of Torts- I
Submitted by: Submitted to:
Vrinda Vinayak Mr. Prem Chand
Roll No. 76LLB14
National Law University, Delhi
Table of Contents
Serial No. Chapter Page
1 Declaration ii
2 Acknowledgements iii
3 Synopsis iv
4 Table of Cases viii
5 Chapter 1: Introduction 1
6 Chapter 2: Need to Limit Liability to Proximate Cause 3
7 Chapter 3: Tests of Proximate Cause 5
8 Chapter 4: Need for a Universal Test 12
8 Chapter 5: Conclusion 13
10 Bibliography 16
I hereby declare that the work reported in the B.A. LL.B (Hons.) Project Report entitled The
Tests of Legal Cause in Tortious Acts submitted at National Law University, Delhi is an
authentic record of my work carried out under the supervision of Mr. Prem Chand. I have not
submitted this work elsewhere for any other degree or diploma. I am fully responsible for the
contents of my Project Report.
B.A. LL.B. (Hons.)
National Law University
3rd November 2014
I feel very privileged in expressing my gratitude to Mr Prem Chand and Dr Sushila for permitting
me to move forward with this research project and providing valuable inputs. This project could
not have been completed but for her able guidance.
I would like to thank Dr Priya Rai, Chief Librarian, National Law University Delhi, for enabling
me to utilize the library resources efficiently.
I also extend my gratitude towards my parents and my classmates who encouraged me and assisted
me directly or indirectly with my research.
B.A. LL.B. (Hons.)
National Law University
In the law of torts, the phrase legal cause is defined as the conduct that is a substantial factor in
bringing about harm, which is synonymous with proximate cause. In other words, it is the term
that is used for the real cause of an accident or an injury. Legal cause can also be restated as
causation, which is the causal relationship between conduct and result. It provides a means of
connecting conduct with a resulting effect, typically an injury.
It has been mentioned above that legal cause is the same as proximate cause. In the law,
a proximate cause is an event sufficiently related to a legally recognizable injury to be held to be
the cause of that injury.
There are two types of causation in the law: factual cause, and proximate (or legal) cause. Cause-
in-fact is determined by the "but for" test: But for the action, the result would not have happened.
For example, but for Mr. As negligence, the collision which caused harm to Mr. B would not have
occurred. For a tortious act to cause a harm, both tests must be met; proximate cause is a legal
limitation on factual cause.
Where establishing causation is required to establish legal liability, it involves a two-step inquiry.
The first stage involves establishing factual causation. Did the defendant actually act in
a way that caused loss to the plaintiff? This must be established before inquiring into legal
The second stage involves establishing legal causation. This is often a question of public
policy: is this the sort of situation in which, despite the outcome of the factual enquiry, we
might nevertheless release the defendant from liability, or impose liability?
This research project aims to enquire into the second stage, i.e. the study of legal (proximate) cause
and present an analysis of the tests employed to determine legal cause in a tortious act.
2. Literature Review:
The possible sources for this research paper are as follows:
2.1 Reference Books:
Law of Torts, by R.K. Bangia
The Law of Torts, 10th Edition, by Ramaswamy Iyer
Perspectives on Causation, Edited by Richard Goldberg
Legal Cause in Actions of Tort, by Jeremiah Smith
Published by: The Harvard Law Review Association
Article DOI: 10.2307/1324390
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1324390
Legal Cause, by Henry W. Edgerton
University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register
Vol. 72, No.4 (May, 1924), pp. 343-375
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Law
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3314220
Legal Cause in the Law of Torts, by Robert E. Keeton
Published by: Harvard Law Review
Vol. 77, No. 3 (Jan., 1964), pp. 595-600
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1339048
Causation in Tort Law, by Richard W. Wright
73, CAL. L. REV. 1735 (1985)
Available at: http://scholarship.law.berkley.edu/californialawreview/vol73/iss6/2
2.3 A Few Relevant Indian Cases:
Barnett v. Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee (1969): When three
night watchmen presented themselves to a nurse in the hospital complaining that they had
been vomiting and the casualty doctor on duty failed to examine them. One of them later
died of arsenic poisoning from the tea ha had taken earlier. Thus, the doctor not examining
him was not the proximate (legal) cause of his death, and the but-for factual test failed.
Thus, the hospital was not liable.2
Ganga Sugar Corporation Ltd & ors v. Sukhbir Singh: A jeep driver in the course of his
employment left the ignition keys in the jeep when he left it on a crowded road, and
someone drove the jeep in his absence and caused an accident. It was held that the
negligence of the driver, not the driving by the third person was the effective and proximate
cause of the accident.3
3. Statement of Research Problem:
I wish to critically analyze the various tests employed by the court system to determine legal
cause, the case laws which helped establish these tests, and how they have evolved ever since.
To enquire into the study of Test of Proximity.
To study why liability of the defendant is restricted to consequences brought about
by proximate causes only.
To present an analysis of the tests employed to determine legal cause in a tortious
To see if there is a Test of Proximity that can be applied universally.
The hypothesis for this research project is as follows: Factual cause, or cause-in-fact, has to be
determined before delving into legal or proximate cause. Usually, the courts employ the but-for
test to determine factual causation and the next step is to determine legal cause. But currently,
there does not exist any one test or method to determine legal cause which can be applied to all
cases. These tests have to be tailored according to the facts of individual cases.
6. Research Questions:
a) How do the courts define the term legal cause as used in reference to actions of tort?
b) What are the reasons for limiting liability of the defendant to the proximate causes?
c) Which tests have been applied by courts till date and what are their advantages and
d) What are the perspectives of scholars and jurists regarding these tests?
e) Is there any test for legal cause which can be applied universally without any
Table of Cases
S.No. Case Name and Citation
1 DeLong v. Miller & Lux (1907) 151 Cal. 227, 90 Pac. 925
2 Lawrence v. Southern Pacific Co. (1922) 189 Cal. 434, 208 Pac. 966.
3 Smith v. London & S. W. R. Co., 6 L. R. C. P. 14, 20 (1870)
4 Belding v. Johnson (1890) 86 Ga. 177, 12 S. E. 304.
5 Dudgeon v. Penbroke (1874) LRQB 581; 2AC284
6 Hogan v. Bentick West Hartley Collieries Ltd. (1949) 1 All ER 588
7 Robinson v. The Post Office (1974) 2 All ER 737
8 Wireland v. Cyril Lord Carpenters Ltd (1969) 3 All ER 1006
9 Barnett v. Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee(1969)1 QB 428
10 Ganga Sugar Corpn Ltd & ors v. Sukhbir Singh AIR 1974 All 113
11 Mahogany v. Ward (1889) 16 R. I. 479, 17 Atl. 860
12 Lynch v. Knight (1861) 9 H. L. Cas. 577
13 Sawdey v. R. W. Rasmussen Co. (1930) 107 Cal. App. 467, 290 Pac. 684.
14 Moon v. First National Bank of Benson (1926) 287 Pa. 398, 135 Atl. 114
15 Gilman v. Noyes, (1876) 57 N. H. 627, 631
16 Memphis & Birmingham R. R. Co. v. Lackey (1896) 114 Ala. 152, 21 So. 444.
17 Polemis and Furness v. Withy & Co., [I92I] 3 K. B. 560 (C. A.).
18 Gilman v. Noyes, (1876) 57 N. H. 627, 631
19 Barnett v. Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee (1969) 1 QB
20 Ganga Sugar Corpn Ltd & ors v. Sukhbir Singh AIR 1974 All 113
Chapter 1: Introduction
Tort liability is usually considered as having three components: a wrongful act or omission, a chain
of causation, a form of damage that the law will recognize. 1 In this trifurcation "wrongful conduct"
has conventionally meant the creation of unreasonable risk of injury to anyone;2 once this is found,
it has been felt that the actor should respond for all the results so