Legal Causation

Legal causation, also known as proximate cause, is a concept in law that establishes a link between a defendant's actions and the resulting harm in a way that is legally recognised as sufficient to impose liability. Unlike factual causation, which focuses on whether the defendant's actions directly caused the harm, legal causation considers whether it is fair and just to hold the defendant responsible for the consequences of their actions. This involves analysing whether the harm was a foreseeable result of the defendant's conduct and whether there were any intervening factors that might break the chain of causation.

Foreseeability is a key element in determining legal causation. It involves assessing whether a reasonable person in the defendant's position would have anticipated the risk of harm resulting from their actions. If the harm was foreseeable, then legal causation is more likely to be established. This principle ensures that defendants are only held liable for harms that they could reasonably predict and prevent.

Another approach to legal causation is the direct consequences test, which examines whether the harm was a direct and natural result of the defendant's conduct without any intervening causes. If the harm directly follows the defendant's actions in a natural and unbroken sequence, legal causation is typically established.

For instance, if a driver negligently runs a red light and causes a collision, the injuries suffered by the other driver are direct consequences of the negligent action. In this case, there are no intervening events that break the chain of causation, making the negligent driver legally responsible for the harm.

Legal causation also involves considering intervening and superseding causes. An intervening cause is an event that occurs after the defendant's action and contributes to the harm. If the intervening cause is foreseeable, it does not break the chain of causation, and the defendant may still be held liable. However, if the intervening cause is deemed superseding—meaning it is unforeseeable and sufficiently independent of the defendant's conduct—it can break the chain of causation, absolving the defendant of liability.

For example, if a negligent driver causes a minor accident and a subsequent, unforeseeable natural disaster exacerbates the injuries, the natural disaster could be considered a superseding cause. This would mean the driver might not be legally liable for the additional harm caused by the natural disaster.

An important principle related to legal causation is the eggshell skull rule, which holds that a defendant must take his victim as he finds him. This means that if a defendant's actions cause harm to a plaintiff who has a pre-existing vulnerability or condition, the defendant is liable for the full extent of the harm, even if the injuries are more severe than what would be expected for an average person.

For example, if someone with a pre-existing medical condition is injured due to a defendant's negligence, the defendant is responsible for all the resulting harm, even if it is more severe than what would typically occur. This rule ensures that defendants cannot escape liability simply because the plaintiff was particularly susceptible to injury.

Legal causation has been shaped by numerous legal precedents and case law. One notable case is Wagon Mound (No 1) [1961] AC 388, where the House of Lords established that the type of damage must be foreseeable, even if the exact manner in which it occurred was not. This case highlighted the importance of foreseeability in establishing legal causation.

Legal causation is a crucial concept in determining liability in both criminal and civil law. It ensures that defendants are held responsible for harms that are reasonably foreseeable and directly linked to their actions. By considering factors such as foreseeability, direct consequences, and intervening causes, courts aim to establish a fair and just basis for imposing liability, holding individuals and entities responsible for the consequences of their actions in a rational and equitable manner.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham
ESSEC Business School

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.