The tort of negligence.

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Tort coursework

In the tort of negligence three things need to be proved in order for an action to succeed, the first being that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff, the second being that the defendant breaks that duty of care within the standard of care required by law and thirdly this breach of duty of care results in damage to the plaintiff.  This damage must be recognised by the law.

In the case of Donoghue v Stevenson it was said that

“ you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour.  Who, then, in law is my neighbour?  The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called into question.”

Rogers believes that this “statement must be the most influential in any decision on any subject in the history of the common law in England.”

Rogers believe is generally very true as the main concept of negligence comes from that case and that statement.  Following this case came the case of Dorset Yacht Co. Ltd. V Home Office [1969] where Lord Denning stated  “at bottom a matter of public policy which we, as judges, must resolve.  This talk of ‘duty’ or ‘no duty’ is simply a way of limiting the range of liability for negligence” and confirmed the ‘neighbour’ principle from Donoghue v Stevenson.

This was furthered in the case of Anns v Merton London Borough [1978] where it was said “that in order to establish that a duty of care arises in a particular situation” then you must go through a two-tier test.  The first stage is to see if there was “a sufficient relationship of proximity” so that the defendant ought reasonably to have had the plaintiff in mind whilst doing the act or omission that caused the breach of duty.  The second stage can be considered when there is a positive answer to the first stage.  The second stage then looks to see if there are any factors that would limit the liability of negligence, i.e., reasonable forseeability; would a reasonable man have been able to foresee the consequences of the action?  This principle allowed the courts to consider social and economic policies and was used to extend the duty of care into new areas not normally covered.

In the case of Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1988) the court applied policy considerations.  The mother of a murder victim tried to sue the police for negligence in not capturing the murderer who had already committed 12 other similar crimes.  It was held that there was not sufficient proximity between the police and the murder victim as it could have been anyone that the murderer decided to kill and they also considered public policy and decided “that the threat of litigation might have an adverse impact on the conduct of criminal investigations…” so held that no action could be taken against the police for damages.

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This principle that came out of Anns case was criticised in the case of Yuen Kun-Yea v AG Hong Kong [1988] where Lord Keith said that forseeability is not the only ingredient that will naturally lead to a duty of care and that the two-stage test had been taken to a degree of importance that was not intended and regarded it as no longer suitable to decide the existence of a duty of care.  The idea of proximity is easily concluded in every day cases that include physical damage but in some other cases proximity needs to be looked at closer ...

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