Arguing about causes in law: a semi-formal framework for causal arguments

  • Rūta LiepiņaEmail author
  • Giovanni Sartor
  • Adam Wyner


Disputes over causes play a central role in legal argumentation and liability attribution. Legal approaches to causation often struggle to capture cause-in-fact in complex situations, e.g. overdetermination, preemption, omission. In this paper, we first assess three current theories of causation (but-for, NESS, ‘actual causation’) to illustrate their strengths and weaknesses in capturing cause-in-fact. Secondly, we introduce a semi-formal framework for modelling causal arguments through strict and defeasible rules. Thirdly, the framework is applied to the Althen vaccine injury case. And lastly, we discuss the need for new criteria based on a common causal argumentation framework and propose ideas on how to integrate the current theories of causation to assess the strength of causal arguments, while also acknowledging the tension between evidence-based and policy-based causal analysis in law.


Argumentation Causation Evidence Law Legal reasoning 



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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law DepartmentEuropean University InstituteFlorenceItaly
  2. 2.CIRSFIDUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  3. 3.Department of Computer Science, School of LawSwansea UniversitySwanseaUK

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