Prosser, pp. 252-254
Facts: There was a train-car accident where both parties were negligent. The train was going too fast and the car was negligent in driving the car in front of the train. The decedent of the passenger of the car sued the railroad and won at trial. The appellate court affirmed. The railroad appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
Issue: Was the train’s excessive speed the actual cause (cause-in-fact) of the collision?
Rule: You can’t sue for negligence unless such negligence was an actual cause of the harm. Negligence is an actual cause if it was a substantial factor in bringing about the harm.
Analysis: The court says that the negligence of the railroad was an actual cause of the accident if the accident would not have happened “but for” that negligence. The negligent conduct in question was running the train at 37 mph as opposed to the 25 mph prescribed by the railroad’s own rules.
The court says that the railroad’s negligence may therefore only be found to be the actual cause of the collision if the collision would not have happened if the train had been going the proper speed of 25 mph.
The court weighs the evidence and finds that if the train had been going the proper speed, the collision would have happened anyway. Therefore, the train’s excessive speed cannot be said to have been the cause-in-fact of the collision.
The court rejects an “escape theory” on the part of the plaintiff that claims that if the train had been going slower, the driver of the car might have had enough time to get away. The court says that this is not supported by evidence, and is in fact “pure conjecture”.
Conclusion: The lower courts’ judgment is reversed and the suit is dismissed.