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How Determining Causality Can Help Strengthen a Case

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Crash test dummy on ground

What is causality and how do experts deal with it?

The term refers to the reason something happened – the cause for it.

Determining cause is like peeling an onion. For example, in a case where someone trips and falls and is injured there can be many contributors to the equation and different causes for different effects.

For instance, who is the person injured and what are his or her characteristics? Old or young? Light or heavy? Good or not-so-good eye sight? Subject to seizures? Subject to losing balance? These are some of the types of things that can contribute to a fall and injury.

There is also the question for the cause of the injuries themselves. An extreme example of this is the forensic determination of the cause of death of a gunshot victim. The person was shot. Is that the cause of death? Maybe it is and maybe it is not. The pathologist must determine that. The evidence for the gunshot wound is not the same as that for the cause of death.

In a trip and fall case, as a simple example, let us assume that there is a defect in the surface on which the person is walking and that he or she tripped over the defect and fell. If that defect constitutes a violation of a building code, accessibility standards, ASTM walkway standards, building maintenance requirements, or any type of standard, ordinance, code or statute, it is at least evidence of negligence and possibly negligence per se. 

The defect is present and the person has fallen over it. There is no question that the defect and its non-compliant nature contributed to the fall and the injury. That is very valuable information. But is it the entire reason for the fall and is it the entire reason for the types of injuries suffered? Since each matter is different than all others, the totality of causation issues will change in each case. They are like peeling an onion.

We consider the code and standard compliance issues. We determine whether the physical nature of the site is or is not compliant. If it is not, we can identify, define, and establish the grounds for non-compliance. We determine whether the defect contributed to the causation of the fall.

Expert witnesses that deal with personal injury matters deal with a variety of issues.

Human Factors Engineering deals with the interaction between humans and user satisfaction, safety, and performance. Human Factors professionals are trained to apply scientific knowledge of human behavior, capabilities, and limitations to identify the underlying root cause(s) of an incident.

Biomechanical Engineering deals with the mechanical behavior of the human musculoskeletal system and how work is performed and energy is exerted by or on the body. They have training that allows them to draw conclusions regarding causation of an injury by analyzing the internal and external effects of forces acting on the body.

Experts often have a huge impact on the nature of a case. Some cases require the input of more than one to deal with all the factors that must be considered. More than one type of expert may be needed to fully determine all the issues of all the types of causation.


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