The Proximate Cause – Bound In Time

The event alleged to have caused the loss must still be causative at the time of loss. The longer the lapse of time between the two, the greater will be the likelihood that another act or omission will have intervened to break the chain of causation. It will, however, always be a question of fact.

– A fire damages a building and weakens a wall. Shortly afterwards the wall is blown down by high winds. The fire is the proximate cause of the damage because the destruction of the wall is directly linked to the fire. The collapse of buildings is usually excluded from ARPI policies but is often subject to a proviso which makes the insurer liable to pay if the collapse results from a cause not otherwise excluded. An ARPI insurer bound by such a term would therefore have to indemnify the insured for this damage. However, where fire damages a wall and leaves it weakened, and wind blows the wall down several days later, then the lapse in time may mean that the fire is not the proximate cause of the wall falling down (Gaskarthv. Law Union [1876]). The negligence of the insured, who failed to take preventative measures to secure the wall, may be a novus actus interveniens which might not be covered by a fire policy. Even with the benefit of the above proviso, an ARPI insurer would not be liable.

– A fire seriously damages a building. A wall is in danger of collapsing onto the neighbouring building, so the local authority orders demolition of the wall. During demolition the wall falls on the neighbouring premises.

The fire is the proximate cause of damage to the neighbouring building because the risk of damage was still operating, having been caused by the fire (Johnston v. West of Scotland Insurance Co. (1828) 7 Shaw 52). This decision is, however, open to question because the fire would not be the proximate cause of the damage if it could be shown that the wall would not have fallen but for the action of the authority, or that the authority failed to exercise due care during the demolition process.

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