A “Legal Cause” - KOTA Territory News

A “Legal Cause”



Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

Lawyers and judges have wrestled with the definition of "legal cause" for a very long
time. It's a very important subject because conduct – no matter how "bad" it is – is actionable
only if it is a legal cause of injury. Presently, South Dakota's pattern jury instruction explains as

  • The term ‘legal cause' means an immediate cause which, in the nature or probable sequence, produces the injury complained of. For legal cause to exist, the harm suffered must be a foreseeable consequence of the act complained of. In other words, liability cannot be based on mere speculative possibilities or circumstances and conditions remotely connected to the events leading up to an injury. The defendant's conduct must have such an effect in producing harm as to lead reasonable people to regard it as a cause of the plaintiff's injury.

Would, for example, the failure to fix the brakes on one's car be the "legal cause" of an
accident that occurred on black ice that came out of nowhere? Would expert testimony on the
issue of whether brakes make a difference on black ice be important to deciding the issue or is
that subject common knowledge, something we all know about?

E-mail Gary


Lawline@KOTATV.com is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.


1.      You see yet another car accident at a spot where there have been many accidents in the past and will be more accidents in the future? 


2.      You learn another person is hurt using a machine that has injured others in the past and will injure others in the future? 


3.      You watch a dangerous practice – like where a school bus parks – you know is a disaster waiting to happen?  


What should you do? 


Try to prevent the next accident, injury, and catastrophe from happening. 


How can you do that? 


Send a letter or email to those responsible – the highway department, the owner and operator of the machine, the school district - putting them on notice of the danger.


Your letter or email will either prompt a "fix" or help the next innocent victim establish liability against those who failed to act.   


Taking a few minutes to write a letter or email can have a huge impact; you can be a difference maker. 

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