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Root Cause Analysis and Proximate Cause

Root cause analysis is “a systematic process for identifying ‘root causes’ of problems or events and an approach for responding to them.” (Washington State Department of Enterprise Services). Root cause analysis is an approach to prevent problems before they occur because said problems are either likely to occur or are reasonably foreseeable. Id.

Proximate cause, otherwise known as “legal cause”, is an event that is so related to an injury, that the law determines the event to be the cause of an injury. For example, if Person A gets hit by a car driven by Person B, and Person B wasn’t paying attention, Person B (and their inattention – negligence) is said to be the proximate cause of Person A’s injuries. Person A’s mother is technically a cause of the injury because if she didn’t birth Person A, s/he would not have been injured. However, Person A’s mother would not be considered to be the proximate cause of Person A’s injuries because the car crash with Person B was so attenuated and unconnected from Person A’s birth. 

What do root cause analysis and proximate cause have to do with one another?

In order to determine appropriate root causes for problems means that you have a fundamental understanding of proximate causation. The opposite is also true – meaning, if you understand proximate causation, you should be able to engage in a process with the goal of identifying root cause(s). Being able to identify the cause of a problem (or a harm), means that a solution can be found and that data used for that solution can be used to help solve other problems.

There may be several root causes of a problem as there may be several proximate causes of an injury.

Enter Corporate Responsibility 

Companies that interact with the general public (such as manufacturers or utility companies) have a responsibility to engage in management/oversight practices and protocols to determine root causes of problems and to enact procedures to curb against foreseeable defective processes. Doing so helps not only protect the public from potential future threats of harm due to malfunction or misfeasance, but also ensures better and more reliable goods and services. Further, companies have the resources and the best understanding of their product or utility to be able to engage in this function. The public relies on companies to engage in these protocols for public safety.

A company that fails to engage in root cause analysis can be said to be willfully blind to known hazards that they have failed to protect the public from. This willful blindness then becomes not only a cause of injury, but, perhaps the proximate cause of a person’s injury.

If you know someone who has been injured by a defective product, drug, medical device or a utility, Romano Law Group may be able to help you. Please give us a call at 561-533-6700 for a free consultation. Learn more about our experience in defective products and defective drugs and medical devices.

Corey B. Friedman, Esq.