As discussed in a recent decision from the Massachusetts Appeals Court, to sustain a claim of negligence, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed him a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, that the plaintiff was injured, and that the defendant's breach was the cause of those injuries. Defendants often attack the elements of a plaintiff's negligence claim by arguing that the plaintiff cannot prove "causation." In other words, the defendant claims that even if there was a breach of duty, the plaintiff is unable to prove that the defendant's negligence caused the injury.
It can be especially challenging to prove causation in car accident cases when only one vehicle is involved, and the passengers of that vehicle are injured. In Alford v. Department of Transportation, the plaintiffs were driving on Route 1A when they crashed into the roadside barrier on the ramp to the Massachusetts Turnpike. The plaintiffs were unable to remember the details of the accident, but the investigating police officer, who had spoken with a witness at the scene, was able to provide important information. The police officer testified at his deposition that the driver in the plaintiffs' vehicle lost control of the vehicle after it contacted heavy snow left behind on the exit ramp. He testified that he observed a strip of snow roughly two feet wide and six to twelve inches deep on the ramp, which extended across two lanes to the roadside barrier. According to the supervisor of highways and tunnels, the road had just been plowed and salted. The officer stated that the snow path was consistent with a set of plows leaving snow behind.