Published on:

Boston Drunk Driving and Proximate Causation

Drunk driving involves acting with an extreme risk towards the safety of oneself and others. The tort underlying a Boston drunk driving lawsuit is negligence which involves breaching one’s duty of care towards plaintiff in a manner that causes damages to others.  The four elements of negligence are duty, breach, causation, and damages. Causation can be further broken down into actual and proximate cause.

Boston drunk driving lawyerActual cause is also known as “but for” causation. This is where the harm incurred (damages) would not have happened absent defendant’s negligent conduct. One example would be where defendant is negligent in fixing plaintiff’s brakes.  Plaintiff is unable to stop in time at a red light and goes through the intersection where he or she T-bone’s another vehicle causing serious damage. Had the mechanic not been negligent in fixing the brakes, plaintiff would have stopped in time and the accident would not have occurred.  We could say that “but for” the mechanic’s negligence in fixing the breaks, the accident would not have occurred. This is actual causation. As our Boston drunk driving accident lawyers can explain, proximate causation deals with the proximity between defendant’s negligent conduct and the damages suffered by plaintiff.  One example typically taught in law schools involves a man who decided to have a vasectomy.  The vasectomy was not performed correctly and a child was born.  When that child was 12-years-old he burned down the couple’s home. The doctor’s negligence with respect to the vasectomy is the actual cause of the home being burned down.  But for that negligence, the child would never have been born, the home would not have been burned down.  This harm, however, was so far removed from the doctor’s negligent conduct that we would say there is no proximate relation between the negligence and the harm caused there is no causation.

Both actual and proximate causation must be established, but in the American legal system, the focus is generally on proximate cause and not actual cause.  There is also the concept as superseding and intervening negligent acts that may severe the chain of causation. For example, if a drunk driver causes a major car crash in Boston and severely injures plaintiff, plaintiff would need to rush to the hospital in an ambulance.  While the ambulance is rushing to the hospital, there is a chance that it will be involved in another traffic accident causing more damage to plaintiff.  Whoever was responsible for this second crash would be liable to plaintiff, but so would the original drunk driver as long as this second accident was a foreseeable consequence to drunk driving, and many juries would find that it is.  If on the other hand, an ambulance driver was a criminal and kidnapped plaintiff, this is not something one would predict so this could be a superseding act of negligence that would break the chain of causation.

Negligent Conduct of Alleged Boston Drunk Driver

According to a recent news report from CBS Boston, a man was allegedly driving drunk in Boston and drove his car down a flight of steps in Boston’s City Hall Plaza.  Authorities have said they found an unoccupied Toyota Corolla at around 11 p.m. on the night of the incident.  The front end of the car was destroyed as it had crashed into a pole for a walk light at the crosswalk on Congress Street.

Witnesses allegedly told officers they saw the driver enter City Hall Plaza and then drove down one of the large sets of concrete steps on the outside of City Hall prior to crashing into the light post. The 26-year-old driver than allegedly fled the scene of the accident, but he did not get far as police found him quickly after the alleged Boston drunk driving crash occurred. He was seriously injured in the crash, but his condition was not listed as life-threatening as of the time of this article.

Authorities were towing his car when the allegedly discovered a bottle of alcohol and a gun inside, and they noted that he did not have a permit to carry a handgun in Massachusetts. Police charged him with negligent operation of a motor vehicle, operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs (OUI), and the unlawful possession of a firearm.  While he has been charged with various crimes, he is presumed innocent unless and until he is found guilty in a court of law beyond a reasonable doubt by a judge or jury.

If a defendant chooses to drink to the point of intoxication and then gets behind the wheel of a car,  defendant is engaging in negligent conduct. If a person was hit by his or her car in a pedestrian area where no cars are even allowed to be, that would still be considered a foreseeable consequence of his or her drunk driving. This would satisfy the actual cause requirement because those people would not be harmed had it not been for defendant’s drunk driving and it would also satisfy the proximate cause requirement. A pedestrian being injured by a drunk driver is exactly the type of harm one would expect in a drunk driving accident lawsuit in Boston.

Another test that can be used to determine proximate causation involves what is known as the zone of danger. This test looks at whether the harm actually suffered was foreseeable as well. The case, Palgraf v. Long Island Railroad, involved plaintiff who was waiting on a train platform over a hundred years ago to take her children to the beach.  There was another train being loaded ahead of hers and two men and some railroad workers dropped a box they were carrying as they they attempted to board.  The box exploded as it contained fireworks and caused a coin-operated novelty scale to hit the woman.  This dealt with both the duty of care and proximate causation.  On Appeal, the famous judge Benjamin Cardozo decided plaintiff was not within the zone of danger.

If you or someone you love has been injured a Boston drunk driving accident, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

Drunk R.I. Man Drove Down Boston City Hall Plaza Stairs, Police Say, September 2, 2017, CBS Boston

More Blog Entries:

Former NFL Quarterback Vince Young Given Probation for Drunk Driving, Feb. 7, 2017, Boston Drunk Driving Accident Lawyer Blog