The Edmond Sun

July 20, 2013

ASK A LAWYER: Finding the elements of causation in law suits

By Matt Hopkins
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving & Davies law firm in Edmond.

Q: Why do we care about legal causation?

The answer to this question depends on who we mean by “we.” If we are my 15-year-old son, we don’t care at all. I asked him. If we are first-year law students, we care about causation in order to pass our Torts I exam. If we are passengers who have survived a bus crash, we care because the causation issue directly controls whether someone else will help us pay our medical bills. If we are members of a jury, we care because a judge has instructed us to evaluate causation and — trust me — we are finding it difficult.

Causation, in many ways, lies at the heart of the legal analysis of wrongdoing. Who is at fault? Who is responsible? In many cases, the causation issue dictates the answer. And causation means different things in different types of law suits. In a breach of contract claim, the plaintiff can only recover if he can prove that the defendant’s breach “caused” damage to the plaintiff. Analysis of causation in contract cases is made following one set of rules. Other rules apply to determining causation in personal injury and other types of cases.

I admit that this discussion seems a bit academic and, well, pointless. That is my son’s point. “Nobody cares about this stuff,” were his precise words. He’s mostly right. But my point in writing this series on the underlying construction of causes of action and lawsuits, is to demonstrate the overall complexity of our system of jurisprudence. I am attempting to illustrate not how to drive a car (which my 15-year-old son very much cares about), but how the interwoven parts of the car make it possible to drive a car. Just as cars only work with the various parts interacting — motor, transmission, brakes — lawsuits only succeed if all parts of the cause of action can be proven. These parts are called elements. Causation is one element in many causes of action. And, so, we care about causation for the same reason we care about the gas pedal in our car. Without causation, our lawsuit may not go anywhere.

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss how causes of action in different areas of law are constructed. We will start next week with torts and the elements of negligence. I’ll do my best to keep us both awake.

MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at Send questions to