CAUSA PROXIMA, NON REMOTA SPECTATOR

INTRODUCTION

A wall of a building was damaged due to a fire. Before it could be demolished or repaired, it fell due to a storm and it damaged an adjoining building. The owner of the adjoining building claimed the loss under the fire policy. In this case, the court held that fire was a remote cause and proximate cause was storm and the claim is not payable under the fire policy. This is based on a doctrine of Causa Non Proxima.

‘Causa Proxima, Non Remota Spectator’ is a Latin phrase that means that ‘the immediate, and not the remote cause is to be considered.’ When determining the cause of any event, the proximate cause is to be considered rather than the remote cause. This is simple to say, but the challenge lies in distinguishing the cause as proximate ad distant. [1]

“Proximate cause may be stated as that cause which, in natural and continuous sequences, unbroken by any efficient intervening cause, produces the injury, and without which the injury would not have occurred.” [2]

To determine the proximate cause, one must carefully monitor the series of events that eventually lead to an outcome. There may be more than one proximate cause of an accident, such as when two or more people are negligent at the same time. [3] In such a case, more than one individual or company can be held liable. It suffices if it occurs concurrently with another occurrence that, when combined with it, causes the damage, or if it initiates a chain of events and acts on them in a continuous series, unbroken by some additional or separate cause.

To be considered a proximate cause, the accident must be a normal and likely outcome of the negligence, and it must be of the kind that a normally responsible individual would have expected to occur as a result of the negligence. It is not possible for the individual who commits a careless act or omission to foresee the exact form of the injury; but, as it happens, it must seem that it was a natural and likely result of his negligence. [4]

BACKGROUND OF THE MAXIM

To clarify the root of the said Maxim, it was derived from a Latin maxim that formulated tort law, and hence the branch of tort law became known as Causation.

There have been various theories that attempted to determine the proximate cause few are given below:

Bacon’s Rule—The Last Cause Controls: Sir Francis Bacon read several cases and attempted to synthesize the underlying principles. His first and foremost rule was “In jure non remota causa sed proxima spectator,” which translates as, “In law, one looks to the near cause, not the remote one.” In other words, courts can only look back at one element in the chain of causation when determining what was the “cause” of a result.

Newton’s Rule—The Initial Cause Controls: Bacon’s theory was not approved by all judges. Sir Isaac Newton, wrote Philosophy Naturalis Principia Mathematica in 1687. Newton’s first rule of motion stated that unless forced to change their resting state by an external force, physical forces would remain at rest.

Newton’s doctrine of causation gradually pervaded legal thinking. American courts started dismissing Bacon’s principle. A different trend emerges in court trials using Newton’s version of the proximate trigger rule. Where an initial peril directly causes a subsequent peril, courts employing Newton’s rule would always focus on the initial peril. They will hold that the damage was compensated if the original peril was covered.

APPLICATION OF THE MAXIM

This maxim is applicable for both marine and general insurance laws. [5]

In marine insurance, if indeed the contract otherwise allows for, the insurer is responsible for any loss that may be caused proximately by a danger to the insured, but it is not liable for any loss not caused proximately by a danger to the Insurer.

The Causa Proxima concept does not apply in the life insurance industry unless where the insurer is required to repay all insurance, irrespective of the cause of death – natural or unnatural. [6] Insurers can waive the implementation of the proximate trigger rule under certain policy conditions. The standard fire policy is perhaps the better explanation here.

In the case of dying declaration under section 32 of the Indian Evidence Act of India, only that part of the statement which leads to the death of the person making is admitted for the same. [7]

CASES REFERRED

The following are the cases where the maxim has been applied by the Indian courts:

  1. Padmanabhan Krishna Menon vs Commissioner of Income Tax

Facts: The assessee, P. Krishna Menon,  had been subsequently visiting his master from abroad almost annually to spend a few months with him on each visit. Levy transferred the entire balance in his bank account with Lloyds Bank Ltd., to the account of the assessee. Thereafter, he remitted to or deposited therein almost always round sums in pounds sterling or rupees. From this bank account, the assessee withdrew large amounts periodically into Travancore with which he made investments in shares in own name, gave large gifts of money to his sons, and bought properties in his wife’s name too. Under section 4(3)(vii) of the Travancore Income-tax Act, corresponding to section 4(3)(vii) of the Indian Income-tax Act, 1922, shall not be included in the total income of the person.

Judgment: The provision has no application if the receipts arising from the exercise of a profession, vocation, or occupation, and we entertain no doubt on the facts found in this case that Mr. Krishna Menon since his retirement from the police force has been devoting his life to the exposition of the Vedanta philosophy, that such teaching is his current vocation or occupation and that the amounts paid by disciples like Mr Levy should be considered as receipts arising from the exercise of that vocation or occupation. [8]

  1. Pravudayal Agarwal vs Ramkumar Agarwal

Prabhu Dayal Agarwalla defendant 1 had been trying to obtain a settlement from the Mias Mahal department of the Government a plot of land for starting a rice mill at Alipore Duars. Other parties also entered into competition for obtaining the said plot. The plaintiff was one of those who also attempted to obtain a settlement. To avoid competition among themselves an agreement was executed between the plaintiff Ramkumar and the defendant Prabhudayal and Maidan. They agreed that Prabhudayal alone would submit tenders for the settlement of the plot in question and such offer will be deemed to be on behalf of all three. In the case of a claim for damages for breach of a contract for entering into a partnership, it is not contended that no damages are incurred.

Judgment: Rs. 8000/- as damages were allowed in this case. The amount mentioned in the agreement is on the face of it unreasonable and excessive. The appeal and cross-objection are allowed in part and the judgment and decree of the Court below are modified. Plaintiff’s suit is decreed in part. He will be entitled to a decree for Rs. 8000/- against the defendants. The plaintiff will also get proportionate costs in the trial Court. Each party will bear the respective costs in this Court.  [9]

The question before the Court is what damages are fairly attributable to the breach as a natural result or consequence of the same. It will not be sufficient if the loss is merely a remote consequence of accidental mischief, for in such a case the maxim “causa Proxima nonremote, spectator” will be attracted.

CONCLUSION

The validity of proximate cause has been a source of contention for decades. Today, proximate cause is described as “the cause that produces the injury in normal and continuous sequences, unbroken by any productive intervening cause, and would not have occurred without it.

Author(s) Name: Jinal Prajapat (Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, Visakhapatnam)

References:

[1] J H. Beale , ‘The Proximate Consequences of an Act’ (1920) 33 Harvard Law Review 633.

[2] S Anand, ‘The analysis of proxima causa in marine insurance’ (2020) 1 Lex Research Hub Journal On Law And Multidisciplinary Issues.

[3] Manjeet Kumar Sahu, ‘The Rule of Causa Proxima as a Principle of Insurance’ (2014) 4 Kathmandu Sch L Rev 154

[4] I. F. R. , ‘Responsibility for Remote Consequences of Acts and Omissions’ (1874) 13 The American Law Register, 14

[5] K.S.N. Murthy, Dr. K.V.S. Sarma, Murthy: Modern Law of Insurance in India, (Lexis Nexis Butterworth India, 2019).

[6] M.N. Srinivasan, K. Kannan, Principles of Insurance Law, vol 2 (10th edition, 2020).

[7] Indian Evidence Act, 1872, s 32.

[8] Padmanabhan Krishna Menon v Commissioner of Income Tax, 1956 SCC Online Ker 136.

[9] Pravudayal Agarwal v Ramkumar Agarwal, 1954 SCC Online Cal 66.

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