This paper makes the case for a wider acceptance of a probabilistic approach to causation in negligence. This acceptance would help to remove much of the incoherence which has come to afflict the English law of personal injury law. This incoherence can also be found in other common law jurisdictions (notably those of the United States, Canada and Australia). Concentrating upon recent UK case law, the argument opposes the contention that ‘naked statistics’ can play no role in establishing causation. The argument is controversial but it can be reduced to three unremarkable grounds: (1) With its acceptance (albeit in certain carefully prescribed circumstances) of liability for a negligently increased risk which has eventuated, the common law has already embraced a probabilistic conception of causation; (2) The English common law already employs a probabilistic (frequentist) approach to identifying coincidences; and (3) With the ‘balance of probabilities’ as the standard of proof in civil cases, the common law has long had a probabilistic (epistemic) concept at its core. Probabilistic approaches (at both the type and token level) are shown to be consistent with laypersons’ understanding of the concepts such as risk, chance, odds and likelihood. Moreover, a wider acceptance of a probabilistic perspective on causation would entail no major challenge to the fundamental aims of tort, viz. deterrence and corrective justice.
Chris Miller, Causation in Personal Injury Law: The Case for a Probabilistic Approach. Topoi, September 2013.