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Illinois Personal Injury & Criminal Defense / Blog / Auto Accident / The Role Of “Proximate Causation” In An Illinois Auto Accident

The Role Of “Proximate Causation” In An Illinois Auto Accident


Successful personal injury claims require proof of proximate causation. In simple terms, the plaintiff must show how the defendant’s negligence caused their injury or loss. In many cases this is fairly simple. For example, if a driver runs a red light and slams into another car that is legally in the intersection, the proximate cause of the accident was the first driver breaking the traffic laws.

But proximate cause can be more challenging to prove when more than two people or vehicles are involved. For instance, what if there are a series or chain of accidents that occur in close proximity with one another? Is the person who caused the first accident necessarily liable for any of the subsequent events in the chain?

Driver Injured While Rendering Aid Can Proceed with Auto Accident Lawsuit

The Illinois First District Appellate Court recently confronted such a case. In Decker v. Thao, a driver named Thao was driving his cargo van southbound on Interstate 90 one morning. The road conditions were poor due to wind, rain, and fog. According to Thao, he “hydroplaned” and suddenly lost control of his van, which struck a concrete barrier followed by a concrete median. The vehicle eventually came to a stop on the interstate.

A second driver, Decker, approached the scene. Decker happened to be an emergency medical technician, so she stopped and called 911. She remained in her vehicle during this time. While Decker remained stopped, two other vehicles rear-ended her within a few minutes of one another.

Decker sustained injuries as a result of the rear-end collisions. She later filed a personal injury lawsuit against all three drivers, i.e. Thao and the two people who rear-ended her vehicle. The rear-end drivers settled before trial. Thao filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing he should be dismissed from the case because Decker could not prove proximate causation.

The trial court granted the motion, holding that since Thao could not have foreseen that Decker would stop to render aid–thus putting herself at risk–he could not be held responsible for the other two drivers rear-ending her. Decker appealed, arguing the case should not have been disposed of at summary judgment but rather sent to a jury.

The First District sided with Decker. It noted that Illinois law does recognize something called the “rescue doctrine,” which basically states that “it is always foreseeable that someone may attempt to rescue a person who has been placed in a dangerous position.” Here, Decker stopped to render aid to Thao following his initial accident, thus placing herself at risk. So a jury could find it was foreseeable that Decker’s car would be hit while she was “stopped on the highway in the process of rendering aid.” But the appellate court emphasized that it would be the jury’s call whether “Thao’s conduct was a cause in fact and a legal cause of Decker’s injuries.”

Contact Illinois Car Accident Attorney Baku N. Patel Today

It is not uncommon for a car accident case to involve multiple potential defendants. That is why it is crucial to work with a Champaign auto accident lawyer who can fully investigate the circumstances surrounding your crash and advise you of your options. Contact Patel Law, PC, today to schedule a free case evaluation.



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