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Tort X - Breach of duty of care II

Updated on August 15, 2017

In Paris v Stepney (1951) the plaintiff, a World War II veteran was employed in the defendant’s garage. He was blind in one eye, having incurred the injury during the war and while he was working, he tried to loosen a stiff bolt with a hammer and as result a splinter went into his good eye and he lost his vision. The plaintiff sued the defendant for not providing him with suitable safety equipment while he was working, i.e. a pair of goggles. The failure to do so had caused him to go completely blind.

It was held that the defendant, his employer, who knew that the plaintiff was blind in one eye should have taken the appropriate steps to provide the plaintiff with the necessary safety equipment – the higher the possibility of an injury, the higher the likelihood that the courts will impose a duty of care and deem that the duty of care had been breached when the injury occurs.

In Latimer v AEC Ltd (1953) the plaintiff was employed in the defendant’s factory and as a result of unusually bad weather, excessive water had resulted in flooding and caused the factory floor to become slippery. The defendant realizing that the conditions were unsafe for working had put up warning signs which cautioned that the floor was slippery and in addition to that had mopped up patches of water and had spread saw dust on the floor to ensure that there were no unwanted incidents.

Despite the precautions that had been taken, the plaintiff who was working at the time slipped and fell and was injured as a result. The plaintiff sued on the grounds that he was employed to work under unsafe conditions. The court held that the defendant had done all that a reasonable man could do under the circumstances and that he wasn’t under any obligation to close the factory.

In Roe v Minister of Health (1954) two patients were given spinal anesthetic which was contaminated. The contamination had occurred as a result of minute cracks that had appeared on the glass ampoules that the anesthetics were stored in and it was not noticeable to the naked eye. At the time the surgery was done there was no technology available that could detect the minute or hairline cracks on glass ampoules. As a result of being given the contaminated anesthetics both the patients became paralyzed and subsequently sued.

It was held that the defendant(s) were not liable because there was no possible way of detecting the minute or hairline cracks or fractures on the ampoules. Foreseeability is a core component in establishing duty and breach and because at the time of the surgery the risk was unknown, the defendant(s) could not have foreseen the injury.

In Watt v Hertfordshire (1954) a woman was trapped beneath a car as a result of an accident. The fire station was a few hundred yards away and the station was informed of the accident. In order to release the victim the firemen needed a heavy lorry jack and the vehicle that the jack was normally mounted onto was not available at the time. The fire chief instructed the firemen to load the jack on the back of a lorry and to hold it in place while the jack was being transported to the scene of the accident. While the truck was moving the jack fell on one of the firemen’s legs and he was injured as a result. The plaintiff, the injured fireman sued.

The court held that there was no breach of duty of care because the situation, one of dire emergency, warranted or merited the risk.

In Bolam v Friern Barnet Hospital Management Committee (1957) the plaintiff was a patient who suffered from a mental illness and was subjected to electro-convulsive therapy. He was not given any relaxant drugs and as a result suffered from a facture. The plaintiff sued.

At the time the therapy was administered there were two schools of thought or the medical profession was divided on the subject. Some believed that it was better to administer the therapy after the patient had been given relaxant drugs while others believed that it was better without. The court held that as long as there is a professional school of thought that agreed with the manner in which the defendant administered the therapy then he was not liable.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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