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Tort XXV - Causation XI

Updated on August 23, 2017

White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1998) is a follow on from Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1992) and it is with regards to the Hillsborough Football Stadium disaster. While in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1992) the claimants were the relatives of those who had died and spectators, the claimants in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1998) were the police officers who were on duty at the stadium on the particular day.

The case is complicated because the disaster is generally perceived to have resulted from the negligence of the police and while there is a duty of care which is similar to the duty of care in an employer-employee relationship we have to take into account the fact that relatives of those who had died and spectators were denied compensation because of the floodgates argument. The chances are that the officers on duty did suffer from some form of psychiatric illness, as did the spectators and the relatives of those who had lost their lives in the disaster but to allow one party to claim and not the other would be manifestly unjust.

Thompson v Blake-James (1998) gives us another opportunity to examine the scope of duty that is owed by doctors. The plaintiffs took their son to be immunized against measles and the doctor advised against it because the child’s medical history suggested that vaccination would be more harmful to him than it was to other children. The child subsequently contracted measles that resulted in brain damage.

Let us examine the duty, breach and causation elements again. Under normal circumstances a doctor would not be liable unless the negligent act was strikingly and glaringly obvious see Mahon v Osborne (1939) and as long as there is a school of medical thought that agrees with the way the patient was treated, the court would be reluctant to impose any type of liability on the doctor or medical practitioner see Bolam v Friern Barnet Hospital Management Committee (1957) and Bolitho v City & Hackney Health Authority (1997).

If it can be established at the onset that the doctor does not owe a duty of care than there is no need to proceed with breach, causation and remoteness of damage.

The fact that the child’s medical history suggested to the doctor that immunization may be more harmful to him than to other children may have been sufficient to stop the courts from imposing any liability on the doctor. The plaintiffs were unsuccessful.

This is the second case we have come across where a child has been severely effect by either the child or the parent not being immunized see McKay v Essex Area Health Authority (1982) and it highlights the importance of children being immunized against various diseases at the right age.

The CDC (center for disease control) strongly recommends that all children get two doses of MMR vaccines (Mums-Measles-Rubella), the first dose when the child is between 12 – 15 months old and the second dose when the child is between 4 – 6 years old. Should these immunizations be made compulsory, if they haven’t already been made so? Well, that is something that is best left to parliament but it would be helpful if they were.

In Watson v BBBC (1999) the case concerns a boxer who was injured. He was knocked out during a bout and because there was no medical care provided at ringside the plaintiff, the contestant who was knocked out, suffered serious injury.

Medical evidence suggests that had the proper medical treatment been provided on time, the injuries might not have been so severe and the delay in getting medical treatment aggravated the injury.

We have to keep in mind that the flexibility that is granted to doctors is not granted to other medical professionals or services see Newman & others v United Kingdom Medical Research Council (1996) and Wisniewski v Central Manchester Health Authority (1998) and therefore a failure to provide adequate medical services would most likely attract some type of liability.

The courts held that the defendants. the boxing council owed a duty of care to provide adequate medical services during their fights and therefore the defendants were held to be liable.

It is foreseeable that in all sanctioned fights there is a possibility that one of the contestants may be knocked out, if fact that is how most boxers hope to win their fights, by knock-outs, and it is further foreseeable that these knock-outs may result in some form of injury, some more serious than others and it is only reasonable to expect the organizers to have medical services on hand and an ambulance on standby.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward


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