Understanding proximate cause

August 28, 2023

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In the insurance space, the concept of proximate cause plays a pivotal role in determining the outcome of insurance claims. Insurance policies are designed to provide coverage for specific perils and damages, but when multiple events occur simultaneously or consecutively, it becomes crucial to ascertain the proximate cause, also known as the most dominant and direct cause of the loss.

Proximate cause and insurance claims

Proximate cause refers to the primary event or series of events that directly leads to an insured loss. It is the direct cause that sets in motion a chain of events, which ultimately results in the damage or loss covered by an insurance policy. Determining proximate cause requires careful analysis of the events leading up to the loss, their relationship and their influence on the outcome.

The concept of proximate cause is particularly crucial in assessing insurance claims because it helps insurers evaluate the extent of coverage and liability under a policy. By identifying the proximate cause, insurers can determine whether a loss falls within the terms and conditions of the policy, allowing them to make fair and accurate claim decisions. Here are some ways in which proximate cause impacts the assessment of insurance claims:

  • Coverage determination: Proximate cause helps insurers determine whether a loss is covered under the policy. If the proximate cause is a covered peril or event, the claim is likely to be valid. However, if the proximate cause is excluded or falls outside the scope of the policy coverage, the claim may be denied.
  • Policy interpretation: Proximate cause aids in interpreting policy language and clarifying ambiguous terms. It allows insurers to analyse the intent of the policy and align it with the events leading to the loss. This ensures consistent and accurate application of policy provisions.
  • Concurrent causes: In situations where multiple causes contribute to a loss, proximate cause helps identify the dominant or most influential cause. Insurers assess the relationship between the different causes and determine the one that played the most significant role in the occurrence of the loss. This is crucial in deciding whether coverage applies or not.
  • Chain of events: Proximate cause enables insurers to analyse the sequence of events leading to the loss. It helps establish a clear timeline and identify any intervening events that may have affected the outcome. By understanding the chain of events, insurers can determine if there were any breaks in causation that might impact the claim.
  • Exclusion analysis: Proximate cause assists insurers in evaluating the applicability of policy exclusions. Even if the proximate cause is a covered peril, if an exclusion specifically applies to that cause, it may result in a denied claim. Insurers must carefully analyse policy exclusions and their relationship to the proximate cause to make accurate coverage decisions.

Proximate cause in action

To better understand the impact of proximate cause on insurance claims, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario involving a house fire. Suppose the proximate cause of the fire was faulty electrical wiring, which resulted in significant damage to the insured property. In this case, if the policy explicitly covers fire damage, the claim is likely to be valid, as the proximate cause aligns with the covered peril. However, if the policy excludes damage caused by faulty electrical wiring, the claim may be denied, even though the proximate cause was a fire. If there were additional factors contributing to the fire, such as a lightning strike or arson, the proximate cause analysis would help determine whether those causes played a part in the fire.


Understanding proximate cause is essential for insurers when assessing insurance claims. It allows them to determine the primary cause of the loss and evaluate coverage under the policy. Sedgwick adjusters can provide invaluable assistance in navigating the complexities of proximate cause analysis. Our experts have a deep understanding of insurance policies and the intricacies of proximate cause analysis. They can provide guidance on interpreting policy language, identifying covered perils, and assessing the applicability of exclusions. We conduct thorough investigations and gather relevant evidence to meticulously analyse the chain of events leading to a loss, identify contributing factors and establish the proximate cause. In cases involving complex or disputed proximate cause, Sedgwick’s forensic experts offer valuable insights and utilise advanced techniques analyse data, reconstruct events, and determine causation.

Sedgwick understands the importance of collaboration between insurers, claimants and experts, which is why our team facilitates effective communication — ensuring all parties are on the same page regarding proximate cause analysis. By partnering with Sedgwick, insurers can enhance their claim decision-making process and ensure fair and accurate outcomes. For more information, contact [email protected].

Tags: claim, Claims, Insurance