A truck accident outside St. Joseph has led to a chaotic scene, with police struggling to round up dozens of cows that escaped from the truck’s trailer. The incident provides another interesting and real-life scenario where the concepts of legal and proximate cause come into play.
Dozens of Cows Escape After Truck Accident
According to the initial reports, the accident happened early in the morning of June 17, 2020, on U.S. Highway 36. It is still unclear what caused the truck to crash. No other vehicles were involved.
At the time of the accident, though, the truck had around 90 cows in its trailer. Nearly 50 were unaccounted for after the accident, sending police around St. Joseph to round them up. Those efforts were still ongoing by midday, though both lanes of U.S. 36 had opened by noon.
Who Would Be Responsible for Damages Caused by the Cows That Escaped?
It would not be surprising if one or more of the cows that escaped from the accident ended up causing more damage, somewhere else in St. Joseph. Whether they run out into the roadway and cause another car accident or just mess up someone’s yard, the victim would hardly be responsible.
But would the truck driver be? After all, the truck accident that led to the cows escaping was a single-vehicle crash – a strong sign that the driver was behaving negligently. If he caused the truck accident, could he also be responsible for all of the problems that stem from it?
Legal Cause and Proximate Cause
Personal injury law in Missouri will only hold someone legally responsible if their negligent conduct caused the victim’s losses. There are two factors to consider:
- Legal cause
- Proximate cause
The legal cause of an accident is whatever set in motion the chain of events that ended with the victim getting hurt. Legal cause uses what is called the “but for” test: “But for the negligent conduct, would the victim have gotten hurt?” If the answer is “no, the victim would not have gotten hurt if the negligent conduct did not happen,” then the negligence was the legal cause for the victim’s suffering.
The problem with legal cause is that it is very open ended. If one of the cows that escaped from the trailer ends up causing another car crash a week from now, then the truck driver’s poor driving set in motion the chain of events that led to the new crash, even if there were multiple opportunities to round up the animal.
This is why Missouri puts a limit on the legal cause of an accident. Not only does the “but for” test need to be satisfied, but the victim’s losses also have to be foreseeable. If the victim’s losses were so far removed from the negligent act that it was nearly impossible to predict them, there is no responsibility on behalf of the negligent actor.
This is proximate cause – something that we detailed in a blog post almost exactly one year ago.