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Tort XXVII - Causation XIII

Updated on August 24, 2017

In Griffiths v Brown and Lindsay (1999) a taxi driver dropped a drunk passenger off close to his destination, by a pedestrian crossing, seated in an upright position. An action was brought against the taxi driver because there was a risk, given the state he was in, that something undesirable may happen.

The question before the courts was whether there was a duty owed by the taxi driver to his passenger. The court held that a duty only existed for as long as the passenger remained in the car and the duty would be that of a reasonable and competent driver. The duty ended when the passenger got out of the car and the duty could not be extended beyond that.

Passengers in a taxi or a cab have a tendency to change their minds during the trip and they can hop off at any point or place, along the way, that they choose to or desire. It is impossible to impose a duty on a taxi driver or to compel him or her to take the passenger to his or her destination or the destination that was agreed upon when the passenger got into the car.

If it is a metered taxi and the charges had not been agreed upon at the time the passenger got into the car, the charges would depend on the traffic conditions and sometimes the passenger may not have the money on him or her to pay the charges, especially when the traffic is heavy and may simply choose to get off somewhere close to home.

In Reeves v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (1999) the police held in custody a prisoner who had attempted suicide on several occasions. The prisoner however did not suffer from a phycological illness and nor did he suffer from depression or schizophrenia. From all accounts, he was a person of sound mind but he did have suicidal tendencies or leaned towards taking his own life.

The police left the hatch of his cell door open and the prisoner committed suicide. An action was brought against the police for negligence and the police contended that the deceased was a person of sound mind or the argument was that people of sound mind do not commit suicide and therefore the police were not required to take additional precautions other that what they normally would.

The court held that there was a duty of care owed on the grounds that despite the prisoner being of sound mind, he displayed suicidal tendencies and had attempted suicide on several previous occasions. Therefore, given the opportunity the chances were high that the prisoner might attempt to take his own life.

The damages that were paid out however were reduced by half because a medical examination prior to death had established that the deceased was in fact of sound mind and despite the fact that he had attempted suicide on previous occasions, he did not suffer from any mental illness or a condition that would compel him to take his own life. It was, if anything, a matter of choice.

In Jebson v Ministry of Defense (2000) a group of soldiers were out drinking and on their return trip, they were travelling in a truck with a canvas roofing at the back, one of the soldiers attempted to climb on the canvas roof of the truck and as a result fell off and sustained injuries. The plaintiff sued.

The court had to decide whether the duty that was owed was negated by horseplay (rough horseplay could constitute a defense - R v Jones (1987) the case is with regards to two schoolboys who were tossed up in the air and both suffered serious injuries as a result. It was held that rough horseplay constituents a defense as long as it is genuine).

It was decided that while the plaintiff contributed to his own injuries, the ministry of defense did owe the plaintiff a duty of care because it was foreseeable that soldiers when they were drunk would engage in rowdy behavior and that might lead to some type of mishap or other. The ministry of defense was under a duty to supervise the soldiers and had breached its duty by failing to do so.

In Palmer v Tees Health Authority (2000) the defendant was a healthy authority who had discharged the accused from an institution for the mentally ill. There was a high probability that the accused would commit a crime and that belief was supported by medical evidence and further supported by testimonies from his neighbors. The accused subsequently sexually abused and murdered a 4-year-old child. The plaintiff, her mother, sued the health authority for their negligence and for the psychiatric illness that she had suffered as a result, contending that the accused should not have been released in the first place. The court held that the health authority was not liable because sufficient proximity could not be established.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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