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Tort XVII - Causation III

Updated on June 4, 2017

In Chadwick v British Railways Board (1967), the case concerns the duty of care that is owed to rescue workers and the Lewisham train disaster which left 90 people dead and nearly 200 others injured.

On the 4th of December 1957 two trains collided at St. Johns Railway Station just outside Lewisham. The collision derailed one of the trains that subsequently fell on carriages ferrying evening rush hour commuters. The plaintiff a volunteer worked tirelessly as a rescuer to try and safe as many passengers as possible and as a result suffered from shock and anxiety attacks and was forced to seek treatment. An action was brought in court for damages.

While the case is more relevant with regards or reference to rescue workers, by applying the normal criteria to establish duty and breach we can come to the conclusion that the defendants owed the plaintiff a duty of care.

A duty of care is owed not only to persons who are directly affected by an incident or an accident but also to third parties who perceive the incident or accident or witnessed its aftermath with their own senses, unaided by electronic devices like television sets, computers and mobile phones with access to the internet, in line with Bourhill v Young (1943) and the series of cases that followed.

The question that is to be asked in this instance is would the defendant have suffered from nervous shock, anxiety attacks or any other form of psychiatric illness but for the defendants’ actions or omissions? The answer in short would be no. The court held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover.

It is foreseeable that any disaster would inevitably prompt rescue workers to rush to the scene and it is likely that some of them may develop some form of an illness as a result of witnessing the aftermath of the incident or accident.

In Baker v Willoughby (1970) the plaintiff suffered serious injuries when the defendant ran into him with his car and was subsequently forced to give up his job and to take on another lower paying job because he could not continue working in the first job as a result of the injuries he had sustained. While he was in his second job, two robbers entered his workplace; he was working in a scrap yard and shot the plaintiff in the injured leg.

As a result, the plaintiff had to have his leg amputated. While the plaintiff was trying to claim for the first injury the defendant argued that since the plaintiff had lost his leg, the defendant should not be held liable and that the subsequent injury had precluded the earlier injury. The court rejected the defendant’s argument and held that the defendant was liable for the injury that had been caused by the accident, the loss of income and any other costs that resulted directly from the accident.

The robbers if they were ever caught were liable for the subsequent injury or the injury that was caused by the shooting. The plaintiff’s misfortunate does not negate the primary defendant’s liability.

In Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd (1976) the plaintiff was walking down the aisle of a Tesco store shopping when she stepped on some spilled yogurt and subsequently slipped and fell. The plaintiff was injured as a result of the accident and brought an action against Tesco for negligence. The court held that Tesco owed its customers a duty of care and it had breached that duty by failing to ensure that the floors were kept clean at all times. The plaintiff’s injury was the result of stepping on the spilled yogurt or the plaintiff would not have been injured but for the spilled yogurt and thus the defendant was held to be liable.

In Jobling v Associated Dairies (1981) the plaintiff was a butcher and while he was working he slipped and fell because of his employer’s negligence. The fall resulted in a serious back injury and his earning capacity was reduced substantially. The defendant subsequently developed a spinal disease (4 years later) that was independent of the earlier injury i.e. an injury that was not connected with the earlier injury, following which he was no longer able to work or suffered from a disability that prohibited him from working.

The court in line with Baker v Willoughby (1970) held that the plaintiff was entitled to claim for the first injury i.e. the injury that was caused by the employer but was not allowed to claim for the second injury or the subsequent or consequent independent injury that occurred 4 years later.

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