Many people know, or at least are aware of the doctrine of causation. It means that someone’s negligence needs to cause the injury that was sustained by the victim. Causation—sometimes called proximate cause—is a crucial element in almost every personal injury case.
A lot of people may not be aware that causation can play a part in criminal cases as well, and that someone who breaks the law and causes an injury can be criminally charged even if they did not directly injure anyone.
The issue is one of foreseeability. If the ultimate outcome of an event—in most cases, an injury or death—is a foreseeable result of behavior, that behavior will be thought of to have caused the event. For example, if you drop a piano off of a building, you may not have intended to injure anyone, but surely, injury is a foreseeable result of such a behavior. Thus, you can be held liable or criminally responsible for doing so.
Man Convicted in Foreseeability Case
This exact issue has played out in the conviction of a 28-year old New York man, who was convicted on charges which include negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving, and reckless endangerment—all stemming from a car accident where he did not actually hit anyone with his car.
Prosecutors charged the defendant with reckless (and drunk) driving, which caused him to be hit by another vehicle. An officer arrived, and was talking to the Defendant. A third vehicle then hit the defendant’s stationary car, and careened into the police officer, tragically resulting in the officer’s death.
The case is rare because the defendant’s car did not touch or injure the officer; usually convictions do not come from such “chain of events” accidents where one action causes another. But the jury found that the defendant’s recklessness, which set in motion the events that ultimately killed the officer, was the cause of his death.
The driver of the car that did run into the officer was not charged. The defendant’s attorney contends it is that driver’s recklessness, and not that of his client, that is responsible for the officer’s death. The state contends that the entire event would not have happened, had the defendant not driven drunk and recklessly. The attorney plans to appeal.
How Far Does Foreseeability Go?
It is hard to say how far causation goes; it is generally for a jury to decide whether the results of an action are foreseeable or not.
But this is not the first time that someone who did not directly injure someone was charged with a crime. In 1994, a man who was running away from a police officer that was pursuing him in a robbery investigation was convicted of murder, when the pursuing officer fell through a skylight to his death.
If you are charged with a crime make sure that your attorney understands all the possible defenses and makes sure the state can prove everything they are charging you with. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss representation from arrest to trial.