Legal Dictionary

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Dependent Intervening Cause

A cause is something that produces an effect or result. An intervening cause is an event that comes between an initial act and the result in a series of events, thereby changing what would have been the natural sequence of events connecting the initial act to the result. A dependent intervening cause is something that was intended, reasonably foreseeable or sufficiently related to the defendant's initial act(s).

For example, if Ed pulls a woman into his car and tells her he is going to rape her, but she jumps out of the car and sustains serious injuries, her jumping out of the car is a dependent intervening cause (That a person threatened with rape would try to escape is foreseeable). If the fact finder (judge or jury) determines that something that happened after the defendant's act, but before the victim's injury is a dependent intervening cause, it can find that the defendant's act was the proximate cause of the victim's injuries (i.e., but for Ed pulling the victim into the car, she would not have suffered her injuries).

A dependent intervening cause does not break the chain of causation between the defendant's act and the victim's injury and therefore is not available as defense. The defendant can be held criminally responsible. On the other hand, if the fact finder determines that something was an independent intervening cause (also called a superseding cause), the defendant will not be held criminally responsible. Although he puts the chain of events in motion, something intervenes that is unexpected and unforeseeable.

For example, if Ed injures Joe, which results in Joe going to the emergency department, and while there, Joe is shot and killed, Joe's being shot is an independent intervening cause. Ed would not be responsible for Joe's death, even though Joe would not have been in the emergency department if Ed had not caused his initial injury. See also, Independent Intervening Cause, Proximate Cause.