In a personal injury case, the injured party expects to be compensated for the injuries they sustained due to a defendant’s negligence. But what happens when the plaintiff’s medical treatment worsens the plaintiff’s condition or causes a new injury? Should the plaintiff pursue the doctor? The medical provider? The law is clear on this point: if medical treatment provided to a plaintiff worsens the plaintiff’s condition or causes a new injury, the defendant who caused the original injury is responsible for the harmful consequences of the medical or surgical treatment.
What Is an Intervening and Superseding Cause?
An intervening and superseding cause is something that happens after a defendant has already acted negligently towards a plaintiff. It is when a person or an act of nature, in combination with the defendant’s negligence, makes the plaintiff’s injury or condition worse. If the intervening force is unforeseeable, it will be deemed a superseding force that breaks the causal connection between the defendant’s negligence and the plaintiff’s injury. In other words, the original defendant will no longer be liable to the plaintiff. If the intervening force is foreseeable, the defendant will still be liable for the plaintiff’s injury.
For example, say two friends are arguing while walking down the sidewalk, and Friend A pushes Friend B into the street. Friend B falls in the street, twists his ankle, and cannot get up. Thereafter, a car turns a corner, does not see Friend B in the street in enough time to apply his brakes, and hits Friend B. Friend A will be liable for Friend B’s injuries as a result because it is foreseeable that someone could get hit by a car if they are pushed into the street.
In Nevada, specifically as to subsequent medical treatment, a defendant may not avoid full liability by claiming that the subsequent medical treatment either exacerbated a Plaintiff’s condition or caused a new injury. This is because courts have already determined, as a matter of law, that subsequent medical malpractice is a foreseeable consequence of a defendant’s negligence and not an intervening superseding cause.
The case of Matlock v. Greyhound Lines, Inc. provided the very common “medical malpractice” jury instruction plaintiffs still use to this day:
The law requires that if you find that the Greyhound Defendants’ negligence caused the Plaintiff’s original injury, that you must also hold the Greyhound Defendants liable for any subsequent medical services made necessary by that original injury and any further injuries or damages Plaintiff may have suffered as a result of those medical services, even if those services were negligent. The law regards the act of the original wrongdoer as a proximate cause of the damages flowing from the subsequent medical treatment and holds him liable therefore.
Matlock v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92359 (Nev. 2010).
Has an Intervening and Superseding Cause Contributed to Your Injury?
If your injury or condition has been made worse as a result of a foreseeable intervening and superseding cause, such as subsequent medical treatment, and the original defendant is attempting to avoid liability for your injuries, it is important to work with an experienced attorney, like a personal injury lawyer in Las Vegas, NV, who can help determine those responsible for your damages.
Thanks to our friends at Eglet Adams for their insight on the law of intervening and superseding causes.