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Tort XXXIII - Remoteness II

Updated on August 27, 2017

In Doughty v Turner Manufacturing Company (1964) the plaintiff was a worker in a factory who was standing too close to a cauldron. A piece of asbestos accidentally fell into the cauldron that was filled with molten liquid and the subsequent reaction, of the asbestos coming in contact with the molten liquid, resulted in an explosion and the plaintiff was injured. The plaintiff sued.

The duty that was owed to the plaintiff was a duty that was owed by an employer to an employee and an employer had to take reasonable care and caution to ensure that the environment that the employee was working in was safe. In this instance, at the time of the accident, it was unknown, within the industry at least, that asbestos coming in contact with molten liquid would result in an explosion.

The court held that the injury was too remote because the defendant could not have foreseen that the accident would produce the result that it did. In order to establish that the damage was not too remote, there had to be an element of foreseeability.

In Tremain v Pike (1969) the plaintiff was a farm hand who worked with cattle. He contracted a rare disease that is spread by coming in contact with rat’s urine. In most instances the disease causes headaches, chills and muscle pains and it is known to be fatal. The plaintiff sued. The question before the courts was to determine if the disease was foreseeable or it the employer had failed to take reasonable care and caution in ensuring the safety and well-being of his employees.

Looking at the nature of the plaintiff’s work i.e. working with cattle or on a cattle farm, it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty that the plaintiff would come in contact with rat’s urine. It would be an entirely different matter if the plaintiff had come in contact with cattle urine and had contracted some form of disease but the possibility of that was virtually non-existent because cow urine actually has antiseptic properties and unless the cow is diseased it does not cause any illness to the person. The court held that the damage was too remote and the plaintiff was unsuccessful.

In Robinson v The Post Office (1974) the plaintiff was an employee of the post office and while climbing down a ladder the plaintiff slipped and fell, sustaining injuries on his shin. The accident was caused by smidges of oil on the rungs of the ladder. Approximately 8 hours later the plaintiff went to his doctor for a tetanus jab and the doctor did not follow the prescribed procedure.

He was required to inject the plaintiff with a small dose and wait for half an hour to determine if there were any adverse effects to the injection prior to administering the full dosage. The doctor waited for about a minute and administered the full dosage. The injection had an adverse effect on the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered brain damage. The plaintiff sued.

The question before the court was whether the injury was too remote or if it was the natural consequence of the defendants’ negligence. The plaintiff was successful. The court held that it was foreseeable that the plaintiff would go to a doctor for treatment after the first injury, any normal person would, and therefore the consequent injury that the plaintiff suffered was a direct result of the defendants’ negligence.

The fact that the chances were slim that that the plaintiff would suffer from brain damage did not break the chain of causation and the thin skill rule applied i.e. you take your victim as you find them.

As for whether the intervening act of the doctor (novus actus interveniens) caused a break in the chain of causation, the court held that it did not. It was a likely consequence of the defendants’ negligence that the plaintiff would seek some form or type of medical treatment.

In Lamb v Camden LBC (1981) the plaintiff moved away and left her house vacant. While she was away the council employed some workmen to do some work on the underground pipes close to her house and the faulty repairs subsequently undermined the foundations of her house resulting in damage to her house. A year later squatters moved into the house and caused more damage to the property. The squatters were vacated in due time but they moved in again and caused even more damage to the property. The plaintiff when she realized the extent of the damage that had been done to her house brought an action against the council claiming compensation for not only the damage that was done by the faulty piping but also for the subsequent and follow on damage that was done to her house by the squatters.

The court held that the council was not liable for the damage that was done by the squatters. While it was foreseeable that negligently fixing a pipe, or repairing a pipe would cause some type of damage especially if the pipe was a main, it was not foreseeable that the damaged house would be occupied by squatters who’d cause the property further damage and not once but twice at that. The damage done by the squatters was too remote to claim.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward


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