Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Proximate Cause Definition:

The most direct, effective or substantial cause of a tort; relevant where the negligence of more than one person contributed.

Related Terms: Causa Proxima Et Non Remota Spectatur

In tort law, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s conduct caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s injury.

In Canadian Tort Law, jurist Linden wrote:

"A cause of action for negligence arises if the following elements are present: (1) the claimant must suffer some damage; (2) the damage suffered must be caused by the conduct of the defendant; (3) the defendant’s conduct must be negligent, that is, in breach of the standard of care set by the law; (4) there must be a duty recognized by the law to avoid this damage; (5) the conduct of the defendant must be a proximate cause of the loss or, stated in another way, the damage should not be too remote a result of the defendant’s conduct; (6) the conduct of the plaintiff should not be such as to bar or reduce recovery, that is the plaintiff must not be guilty of contributory negligence and must not voluntarily assume the risk."

causationIn Couch on Insurance, Mark Rhodes writes in the context of the proximate cause of an insured loss:

"A cause is proximate when it sets in motion a chain of events which result in the loss without the intervention of any new or independent force....

"Proximate cause is that which, in a natural sequence, unbroken by any new cause, produces the result which would not otherwise have occurred."

In Dingle, Justice Devlin wrote:

"Where injury has been done to the plaintiff and the injury is indivisible, any TortFeasor whose act has been a proximate cause of the injury must compensate for the whole of it."

According to Charlesworth's 11th edition on Negligence, proximate cause goes by several names, much depending on the jurisdiction, but always in relation to an allegation that the plaintiff contributed to his injury:

"... what has been variously described as real cause, effective cause, direct cause, substantial cause, decisive cause, proximate cause and immediate cause of the accident."

In Wayne Tank, Lord Denning referred to the:

"... effective or dominant cause of the occurrence...."

Or in Yorkshire Dale SS, Justice Freedman:

"... proximate ... means, not latest in time, but predominant in efficiency, there is necessarily involved a process of selection from among the co-operating causes in order to find out what is the proximate cause in the particular case. The question always is what is the cause, not merely what is a cause."

French: cause immédiate.


  • Dingle v Associated Newspapers Ltd. [1961] 2 QB 162, at page 189
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Legal Definition of Causation
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Tort & Personal Injury Law
  • Linden, A., Canadian Tort Law, 8th Ed. (Toronto: Butterworths, 2006), page 108
  • Rhodes, M., Couch on Insurance, Vol. 18 (New York: The Lawyers' Cooperative Publishing Company, l983), pages 1018-1019
  • Wayne Tank and Pump v Employers Liability Assurance [1973] 3 All ER 825
  • Yorkshire Dale SS v Minister of War Transport 1942 AC 691; also at [1942] 2 All ER 6

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