Saturday, May 4, 2013
#124 / Legal Responsibility
Everything that happens is part of a "natural and continuous" sequence of some kind. Does the doctor who saves a baby's life cause the death of a person killed by that baby, once the baby has grown up?
If the baby grows up to be a killer, the doctor's work has actually played an important part in the continuous sequence of events that led to someone's death. "But for" the doctor's medical intervention, the victim would not have been killed.
Exonerating the doctor from any legal responsibility in this situation is an easy judgment to reach on the basis of common sense, but it is a bit harder to write down exactly when, why, or how legal responsibility should be assigned.
The voir dire exhibit board, above, is what a judge might tell a jury about proximate cause. Strictly speaking, the death of the person killed in my hypothetical example would "not have occurred" without the doctor's work in saving the baby's life. The doctor's actions (a "cause in fact") are not considered to be the "proximate cause" of the death only because the doctor, using ordinary care, could not have foreseen the results of his medical intervention.