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Tort XI - Breach of duty of care III

Updated on August 16, 2017

In Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co Ltd (1970) a group of boys from a borstal school, a type of detention center for young delinquents, were doing some supervised work on an island. The boys were subsequently left unsupervised and 7 of them attempted to escape on board a stolen boat which later collided with the plaintiff’s yacht and the plaintiff sued for the damage to his yacht caused by the collision. The plaintiff was successful.

It was held that the officers or the home office who the officers were answerable to were liable for the damage because it was foreseeable, given their track record, that the boys would try and escape, and in doing so, try and commandeer a vehicle to help them escape. The officers should have exercised due care and diligence in carrying out their duties and their failure to do so or their omission had resulted in damage being caused to the plaintiff’s yacht.

In Nettleship v Weston (1971) the defendant was a learner driver who employed the plaintiff to help her fine-tune her driving skills. While they were on the road the defendant turned a bend and the plaintiff told the defendant to straighten the wheel. The defendant failed to do so and in order to avoid an accident the plaintiff pulled on the handbrake but despite that the car ran over a pavement and hit a lamppost and the plaintiff was injured in the accident that followed.

The plaintiff sued. The defendant pleaded volenti and argued that by entering into the car the plaintiff had voluntarily accepted the risk. The court rejected this argument and the plaintiff was successful.

The court held that despite the fact that the defendant was a learner driver the duty imposed on her was the same duty that was imposed on any other driver.

In Roberts v Ramsbottom (1980) the plaintiff was a pedestrian who was injured by the defendant while he was driving. The defendant had suffered a stroke and during the episode he had lost partial control of his car. The court in line with the decision in Nettleship v Weston (1971) held that the duty that was owed was the same duty that was owed by any other driver i.e. that of an ordinary competent driver.

While the defendant in Roberts v Ramsbottom (1980) didn’t know, or couldn’t possibly have known that he was about to suffer from a stroke there are other medical conditions that prohibit a person from getting behind the wheel of a car. The most common would be diabetes.

Diabetes is a condition where the immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin and anyone who suffers from diabetes can be subjected to not only the effects of excess sugar in the body but also be subjected to the effects of a lack of sugar in the body, as a result of medication, and both these conditions make it unsafe for anyone who suffers from the condition to drive.

Likewise, epileptic sufferers because they don’t know what would trigger a seizure or when it would occur, should not get behind the wheel of a car because they can not only pose a danger to themselves but to others as well.

The court reaffirmed the decisions in Nettleship v Weston (1971) and Roberts v Ramsbottom (1980) in Marshall v Osmond (1983) when a police officer crashed into an escaping criminal. The duty that was owed was one of the ordinary and competent driver and the police officer was held to be not liable.

In Thompson and Others v Smiths Shiprepairers (North Shields) (1984) the plaintiffs were hired as laborers in a shipyard. After close to 40 years of working and being continuously exposed to the noise in the shipyard they found that their hearing had become impaired. The plaintiffs sued.

The defendants argued that at the time the plaintiffs started their employment hearing impairment due to exposure to noise was not a recognized risk and that most employers failed to see it as a risk and that the defendants had merely acted in the manner that is common in the industry.

The court held that with regards to situations were an employer did not owe a duty to provide an employee with the relevant safety equipment (because the industry standards at that time did not require an employer to do so) but a duty was imposed later (because of new developments or changes in the law) the employer was liable from the time a duty was imposed.

With reference to hearing impairment caused by being continuously exposed to noise, what about the ground crews in the air force? Would they be able to claim for being exposed to continuous noise, which without doubt would cause them some sort of hearing impairment, if they were not provided with the suitable protective equipment or are there policy considerations that should or would negate their claim?

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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