Under Illinois case law, the term "proximate cause" describes two distinct requirements: cause in fact and legal cause. A defendant's conduct is a "cause in fact" of a plaintiff's injury only if that conduct is a material element and a substantial factor in bringing about the injury. A defendant's conduct is a material element and substantial factor in bringing about the injury if, absent that conduct, the injury would not have occurred. "Legal cause," by contrast, is largely a question of foreseeability. The relevant inquiry is whether the injury is of a type that a reasonable person would see as a likely result of his or her conduct.
When the Plaintiff called 911, her labor pains were far enough apart that the dispatcher, relying on guidelines that nonetheless allowed the sending of an ambulance when in doubt, suggested she call a private service. When no private ambulance was available, instead of calling back, the Plaintiff set out with a friend driving. When the friend believed she could safely run a red light, the car was hit by a reckless driver, the Plaintiff was badly injured, and the fetus died. A negligence action was filed against the city.
Was the City liable to the Plaintiff for failing to send an ambulance because such failure was the proximate cause of the injuries sustained by the Plaintiff ?
The high court held that in accordance with Illinois case law, the Plaintiff negligence action against the city failed because of her inability to establish proximate causation. Although the failure to send an ambulance was a cause of the accident, the far more immediate causes of the injuries and death were the traffic violations by both the friend and the reckless driver. Thus, the high court did not find it necessary even to reach the issue of defining the extent of the city's 911 duties.