Negligence – Cases Q8

a) Negligence exist when one owe a duty of care. Explain the above statement with reference to court cases.
(10 marks)

b) Explain by which a legislative bill becomes an act of parliament. (10 marks)

(20 marks, 2011 Q8)

Duty of care - Donoghue v Stevenson 1932
This case created the modern concept of negligence, by setting out general principles whereby one person would owe another person a duty of care.

Also known as the "Paisley snail"[5][6] or "snail in the bottle" case, the facts involved Mrs Donoghue drinking a bottle of ginger beer in a café in Paisley, Renfrewshire. A dead snail was in the bottle. She fell ill, and she sued the ginger beer manufacturer, Mr Stevenson. The House of Lords held that the manufacturer owed a duty of care to her, which was breached, because it was reasonably foreseeable that failure to ensure the product's safety would lead to harm of consumers.

Breach of duty - Bolton v Stone 1951 & Roe v Minister of Health 1954
Breach of duty is not limited to professionals or persons under written or oral contract; all members of society have a duty to exercise reasonable care toward others and their property. A person who engages in activities that pose an unreasonable risk toward others and their property that actually results in harm, breaches their duty of reasonable care. An example is shown in the facts of Bolton v. Stone,[8] a 1951 legal case decided by the House of Lords which established that a defendant is not negligent if the damage to the plaintiff was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of his conduct. In the case, a Miss Stone was struck on the head by a cricket ball while standing outside her house. Cricket balls were not normally hit a far enough distance to pose a danger to people standing as far away as was Miss Stone.

Although she was injured, the court held that she did not have a legitimate claim because the danger was not sufficiently foreseeable. As stated in the opinion, 'Reasonable risk' cannot be judged with the benefit of hindsight. As Lord Denning said in Roe v. Minister of Health,[9] the past should not be viewed through rose coloured spectacles. Therefore, there was no negligence on the part of the medical professionals in a case faulting them for using contaminated medical jars because the scientific standards of the time indicated a low possibility of medical jar contamination. Even if some were harmed, the professionals took reasonable care for risk to their patients.

Factual Causation - Asbestos and Smoking litigation

Legal causation or remoteness - Palsgraf v Long Island Rail Road 1928

Sometimes factual causation is distinguished from 'legal causation' to avert the danger of defendants being exposed to, in the words of Cardozo, J., "liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class."[10] It is said a new question arises of how remote a consequence a person's harm is from another's negligence. We say that one's negligence is 'too remote' (in England) or not a 'proximate cause' (in the U.S.) of another's harm if one would 'never' reasonably foresee it happening

Palsgraf v. Long Island Rail Road Co.[11] the judge decided that the defendant, a railway, was not liable for an injury suffered by a distant bystander. The plaintiff, Palsgraf, was hit by scales that fell on her as she waited on a train platform. The scales fell because of a far-away commotion. A train conductor had run to help a man into a departing train. The man was carrying a package as he jogged to jump in the train door. The package had fireworks in it. The conductor mishandled the passenger or his package, causing the package to fall. The fireworks slipped and exploded on the ground causing shockwaves to travel through the platform. As a consequence, the scales fell.[12] Because Palsgraf was hurt by the falling scales, she sued the train company who employed the conductor for negligence.[13]

HarmConstantine v Imperial Hotels Ltd 1944

As a general rule, a plaintiff can only rely on a legal remedy to the point that he proves that he suffered a loss. It means something more than pecuniary loss is a necessary element of the plaintiff's case in negligence. When damages are not a necessary element, a plaintiff can win his case without showing that he suffered any loss; he would be entitled to nominal damages and any other damages according to proof.

Negligence is different in that the plaintiff must prove his loss, and a particular kind of loss, to recover. In some cases, a defendant may not dispute the loss, but the requirement is significant in cases where a defendant cannot deny his negligence, but the plaintiff suffered no loss as a result. If the plaintiff can prove pecuniary loss, then he can also obtain damages for non-pecuniary injuries, such as emotional distress.

The requirement of pecuniary loss can be shown in a number of ways. A plaintiff who is physically injured by allegedly negligent conduct may show that he had to pay a medical bill. If his property is damaged, he could show the income lost because he could not use it, the cost to repair it, although he could only recover for one of these things.

The damage may be physical, purely economic, both physical and economic (loss of earnings following a personal injury), or reputational (in a defamation case).