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Encyclopedia > Causation in English law
English Tort law
Part of the common law series
Negligence
Duty of care
Standard of care
Bolam Test
Breach of duty
Causation
Breaking the chain
Acts of the claimant
Remoteness
Professional negligence
Loss of chance
Loss of right
Res ipsa loquitur
Eggshell skull
Defences to negligence
Trespass to property
Defamation
Strict liability
Vicarious liability
Rylands v. Fletcher
Nuisance
Other areas of the common law
Contract law  · Property law
Wills and trusts
Criminal law  · Evidence

In the English law of tort, causation proves a physical link between the defendant’s negligence and the claimant’s loss and damage. For these purposes, liability in negligence is established when there is a breach of the duty of care owed by the defendant to the claimant that causes loss and damage, and it is reasonable that the defendant should compensate the claimant for that loss and damage. Image File history File links Scale_of_justice. ... This page is a candidate for speedy deletion. ... This article concerns the common-law legal system, as contrasted with the civil law legal system; for other meanings of the term, within the field of law, see common law (disambiguation). ... In law, negligence is a type of tort or delict that can be either criminal or civil in nature. ... In tort, there can be no liability in negligence unless the claimant establishes both that he or she was owed a duty of care by the defendant, and that there has been a breach of that duty. ... The Bolam Test In Sidaway v Governors of Bethlem Royal Hospital, Lord Scarman said: The Bolam principle may be formulated as a rule that a doctor is not negligent if he acts in accordance with a practice accepted at the time as proper by a responsible body of medical opinion... In tort, there can be no liability in negligence unless the claimant establishes both that he or she was owed a duty of care by the defendant, and that there has been a breach of that duty. ... In the English law of the tort of negligence, breaking the chain refers to the test of causation because, even if the defendant can be shown to have acted negligently, there will be no liability if some new intervening act (or novus actus interveniens) breaks the causal link between that... In the English law of tort, professional negligence is a subset of the general rules on negligence to cover the situation in which the defendant has represented him or herself as having more than average skills and abilities. ... Res ipsa loquitur is a legal term from the Latin meaning literally, The thing speaks for itself. The doctrine is applied to claims which, as a matter of law, do not have to be explained beyond the obvious facts. ... The eggshell skull rule (or thin-skull rule) is a legal doctrine used in both tort law and criminal law that holds an individual liable for all consequences resulting from their activities leading to an injury to another person, even if the victim suffers unusual damages due to a pre... In English and American law, and systems based on them, libel and slander are two forms of defamation (or defamation of character), which is the tort or delict of making a false statement of fact that injures someones reputation. ... Strict liability is a legal doctrine in tort law that makes a person responsible for the damages caused by their actions regardless of culpability (fault) or mens rea. ... Vicarious liability is a form of strict, secondary liability that arises under the common law doctrine of agency – respondeat superior – the responsibility of the superior for the acts of their subordinate and can be distinguished from contributory liability, another form of secondary liability, which is rooted in the tort theory... Rylands v. ... Nuisance is a common law tort. ... A contract is a promise or an agreement that is enforced or recognized by the law. ... Property law is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership in real property (land as distinct from personal or movable possessions) and in personal property, within the common law legal system. ... In the common law, a will or testament is a document by which a person (the testator) regulates the rights of others over his property or family after death. ... The law of trusts and estates is generally considered the body of law which governs the management of personal affairs and the disposition of property of an individual in anticipation and the event of such persons incapacity or death, also known as the law of successions in civil law. ... Criminal law (also known as penal law) is the body of common law that punishes criminals for committing offences against the state. ... The law of evidence governs the use of testimony (e. ... English law is a formal term of art that describes the law for the time being in force in England and Wales. ... In the common law, a tort is a civil wrong, other than a breach of contract, for which the law provides a remedy. ... A defendant or defender is any party who is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff or pursuer in a civil lawsuit before a court, or any party who has been formally charged or accused of violating a criminal statute. ... In law, negligence is a type of tort or delict that can be either criminal or civil in nature. ... The plaintiff, claimant, or complainant is the party initiating a lawsuit, (also known as an action). ... In law, negligence is a type of tort or delict that can be either criminal or civil in nature. ... In tort, there can be no liability in negligence unless the claimant establishes both that he or she was owed a duty of care by the defendant, and that there has been a breach of that duty. ... In tort, there can be no liability in negligence unless the claimant establishes both that he or she was owed a duty of care by the defendant, and that there has been a breach of that duty. ... The plaintiff, claimant, or complainant is the party initiating a lawsuit, (also known as an action). ...

Contents


Public policy

Policy at this level is less than ordre public, but nevertheless significant. The claimant must prove that the breach of the duty of care caused actionable damage. The test for these purposes is a balance between proximity and remoteness: Public policy or ordre public is the body of fundamental principles that underpin the operation of legal systems in each state. ...

  • that there was a factual link between what the defendant did or failed to do, and the loss and damage sustained by the claimant, and
  • that it was reasonably foreseeable at the relevant time that this behaviour would cause loss and damage of that type.

To clarify the nature of the judicial process, in Lamb v Camden LBC (1981) QB 625, Denning said: The Right Honourable Alfred Thompson Denning, Baron Denning, OM, PC (23 January 1899 – 5 March 1999) was a British barrister from Hampshire who became Master of the Rolls (the senior civil judge in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales) and was generally well liked, both within the legal...

"The truth is that all these three – duty, remoteness and causation – are all devices by which the courts limit the range of liability for negligence… All these devices are useful in their way. But ultimately it is a question of policy for the judges to decide."

In other words, the court's main task is to do justice as between these parties in their present situation. For this purpose, a weighing evaluative process is required, rather than a clear-cut rule of law. For example, in Meah v McCreamer and others (No. 2) (1986) 1 AER 943, the claimant suffered head injuries and brain damage as a result of the defendant's negligent driving, which led to a personality disorder. Four years later, he sexually assaulted and raped three women. The illegal nature of his conduct was not raised at the civil trial, and the claimant was held entitled to damages to compensate him for being imprisoned following his conviction. In separate proceedings, the three women assaulted obtained a judgment for compensation, so he sought indemnification from the negligent driver and his insurers for the amounts he had been ordered to pay. This was not a claim for his own personal injuries or direct financial loss, but indirect loss. The three women could not have sued the driver directly because they were not foreseeable and so no duty of care was owed to them. The question was whether a person convicted of a crime was entitled to be indemnified against the consequences of that crime. Woolf J. held that the action would be dismissed on two grounds. First, the damages were too remote to be recoverable and, if such actions were to be allowed, it would leave insurers open to indefinite liability for an indefinite duration. Secondly, as a matter of policy, claimants should not have a right to be indemnified against the consequences of their crimes. In Clunis v Camden and Islington Health Authority (1998) QB 978 the claimant had been discharged from hospital where he had been detained under s3 Mental Health Act 1983. He was to receive aftercare services in the community under s117 Act 1983, but his mental condition deteriorated and, two months later, he fatally stabbed a stranger at a London Underground station. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the ground of diminished responsibility and was ordered to be detained in a secure hospital. Subsequently, he brought an action against his local health authority for negligence. The health authority applied to strike out the claim as disclosing no cause of action on two grounds. First, that the claim arose out of the health authority's statutory obligations under s117 Act 1983 and those obligations did not give rise to a common law duty of care. Secondly, that the claim was based on the plaintiff's own criminal act. In the Court of Appeal, the health authority's appeal was allowed on both grounds. The court considered the test of "affront to the public conscience". This is a universal policy test. For example, in the United States, in Rochin v California 342 US 165 (1952) Frankfurter J, giving the opinion of the United States Supreme Court, held that a conviction had been obtained by "conduct that shocks the conscience" (p 172) and referred to a "general principle" that "States in their prosecutions respect certain decencies of civilized conduct" (p 173). He had earlier (p 169) referred to authority on the due process clause of the United States constitution which called for judgment whether proceedings "offend those canons of decency and fairness which express the notions of justice of English-speaking peoples even toward those charged with the most heinous offenses." In the particular case, the Lords ruled that where the claimant had been convicted of a serious offence, public policy would: Lady Justice - allegory of Justice as woman with sword and with book - statue at court building. ... A party is a person or group of persons that compose a single entity which can be identified as one for the purposes of the law. ... In legal parlance, a trial is an event in which parties to a dispute present information (in the form of evidence) in a formal setting, usually a court, before a judge, jury, or other designated finder of fact, in order to achieve a resolution to their dispute. ... In law, damages refers either to the harm suffered by a claimant in a civil action, or to the money paid or awarded to the plaintiff in compensation for such harm. ... For the law in other criminal jurisdictions, see diminished responsibility. ... Her Majestys Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in the English legal system (with only the judges of the House of Lords above it). ...

"...preclude the court from entertaining the plaintiff's claim unless it could be said that he did not know the nature and quality of his act or that what he was doing was wrong."

The Law Commission (2001) comment that this application of the M'Naghten Rules might breach Article 2 European Convention on Human Rights if the illegality defence were to be applied to bar all claims by those claimants (or their dependants) stemming from conduct taking or endangering their own life. For a comprehensive review of the English authorities on "affront to the public conscience", see A (FC) and others (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2005) UKHL 71. [1] The MNaghten Rules are used to establish insanity as an excuse to potential criminal liability, but the definitional criteria establish insanity in the legal and not the psychological sense. ... The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the European Convention on Human Rights, was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe in 1950 to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. ...


The factual test of causation

The basic test for establishing causation is the "but-for" test in which the defendant will be liable only if the claimant’s damage would not have occurred "but for" his negligence. Alternatively, the defendant will not be liable if the damage would, or could on the balance of probabilities, have occurred anyway, regardless of his or her negligence. To understand this, a distinction has to be made between cause and a precondition for the events. Lord Hoffmann in South Australia Asset Management Corp. v York Montague Ltd (SAAMCO) (1997) A.C. 191 at p. 214 gave a classic example Burden of proof is the obligation to prove allegations which are presented in a legal action. ...

"A mountaineer about to undertake a difficult climb is concerned about the fitness of his knee. He goes to a doctor who negligently makes a superficial examination and pronounces the knee fit. The climber goes on the expedition, which he would not have undertaken if the doctor had told him the true state of his knee. He suffers an injury which is an entirely foreseeable consequence of mountaineering but has nothing to do with his knee."

The doctor's negligence does result in the mountaineer running a risk which he otherwise would not have done, but this is insufficient to incur liability. The purpose of the doctor's duty to take care is to protect the mountaineer against injuries caused by the failure of the knee, not rock falls. Even though the injury might be reasonably foreseeable, the doctor is not liable. In The Empire Jamaica (1955) 1 AER 452, the owners sent their ship to sea without properly licensed officers. The pilot fell asleep, and a collision occurred. Though the pilot was negligent at the time, he was generally competent. Thus the question for the courts was: were the owners liable for the collision because they sent their ship to sea without properly licensed officers? Or was the factual precondition superseded by the question as to the competence of the pilot? There is no question that sending the ship to sea is "a cause" of the collision. The legal question is whether it is "the cause". This is a question that the courts treat as objective, addressed by evidence and argument. Hart and Honore (1985) describe the process for establishing legal causation as constructing a parallel series of events (counterfactual situation), and comment: "the parallel series is constructed by asking what the course of events would have been had the defendant acted lawfully." Thus, the owners were not liable. Although they sent the ship to sea without licensed officers (what actually transpired) rather than with licensed officers (the lawful course), the cause of collision was failing to navigate a safe passage. As to the pilot, his lack of licence did not bear on his general competence. The significant factor was the pilot's negligence at the time, and the pilot's lack of license made no difference there. Had the pilot been licensed, he would have been no less likely to sleep. The license would not have awoken him. The owners were, therefore, exonerated on grounds that whether or not the pilot held a license made no difference to the real cause, which was not the pilot's general level of competence, but rather his negligence at the time.


Similarly, in Christopher Andrews v Barnett Waddingham LLP and Raj Waddingham (2006) EWCA Civ 93, the claimant transferred from a "safe" employer's pension scheme to a commercial scheme on the advice of a firm of financial advisers. The breach of duty alleged was confined to advice about the protection afforded by the Policyholders Protection Act 1975 to "with-profits" annuities, and this duty was found to be breached by the first instance judge. The claimant would not have chosen the Equitable Life with-profits annuity if he had been given correct advice, but that did not entitle him to recover the loss he had sustained as a result of his acquiring the annuity. The 1975 Act would have applied if Equitable Life had become insolvent. That was not the case. The real cause of the loss was that the terminal bonuses were not guaranteed and were adversely affected by the downturn in Equitable Life's fortunes. So the negligence as pleaded and as found by the judge did not relate to the fact that the terminal bonuses were not guaranteed.


In Pickford v Imperial Chemical Industries (1998) 1 WLR 1189 the Lords were asked to determine the cause of repetitive strain injury in a typist. Lord Steyn posed the question, "That immediately raises the point that there must be an explanation for the fact that she contracted PDA4. What was the cause of her PDA4? There really was no alternative on the evidence to concluding that this condition was caused by Miss Pickford's typing work." But alternative explanations are that typing might aggravate an inherent condition or generally be an unsuitable occupation for someone with a predisposition to that condition, and neither proves the legal cause. In all cases, the burden of proof is on the claimant to prove the cause as pleaded. There is no burden on the defendant to prove an alternative explanation of the cause of any loss or damage, but a failure to do so may be a factor in deciding whether the claimant's explanation of the cause should be accepted. This test works well in straightforward situations, but it proves less successful in establishing causation in more complex situations where a number of actual or potential causes operate either consecutively or concurrently. For example, in Robinson v Post Office (1974) 1 WLR 1176 following an accident at work, the claimant had an anti-tetanus injection. Nine days later, there was an adverse reaction to the serum and brain damage resulted. No matter what tests the doctor might have performed, there would have been no sign of an adverse reaction within a reasonable time (see the Bolam Test). The doctor's reasonable decision to provide the standard treatment was therefore not the relevant cause of the brain damage because the claimant would not have been injected "but for" the defendant's negligence. Thus, in deciding between sequential contributions to the final result, the court must decide which is the more substantial contribution. Repetitive strain injury, also called repetitive stress injury or typing injury, is an occupational overuse syndrome affecting muscles, tendons and nerves in the arms and upper back. ... Johan van Zyl Steyn, Baron Steyn (born August 15, 1932) is a South African/English jurist, and until September 2005 a Law Lord. ... In the common law, burden of proof is the obligation to prove allegations which are presented in a legal action. ... In the law, a pleading is one of the papers filed with a court in a civil action, such as a complaint, a demurrer, or an answer. ... The Bolam Test In Sidaway v Governors of Bethlem Royal Hospital, Lord Scarman said: The Bolam principle may be formulated as a rule that a doctor is not negligent if he acts in accordance with a practice accepted at the time as proper by a responsible body of medical opinion...


Breaking the chain of causation

See breaking the chain

In the English law of the tort of negligence, breaking the chain refers to the test of causation because, even if the defendant can be shown to have acted negligently, there will be no liability if some new intervening act (or novus actus interveniens) breaks the causal link between that...

Acts of a third party

Whether the acts of a third party break the chain of causation depends on whether the intervention was foreseeable. The general rule is that the original defendant will be held responsible for harm caused by a third party as a direct result of his or her negligence, provided it was a highly likely consequence. So, for example, where the defendant has control over the third party, or where the third party is faced with a dilemma created by the defendant, the chain of causation is unlikely to be broken and the defendant will normally be liable to the claimant for the damage caused: Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co Ltd. (1970) AC 1004. The continuity of liability is not imposed merely because the original negligence makes damage by the third party foreseeable, but where the defendant’s negligence makes it very likely that the third party will cause damage to the claimant: Lamb v Camden LBC (1981) QB 625. In practice, however, the requirement that the third party intervention will usually break the chain and, at the very least, the liability to pay compensation representing the totality of the loss or damage will be apportioned between the two or more tortfeasors. So, for example, if A injures V, it is foreseeable that an ambulance will be called, that paramedics will lift and carry V, and that there will be a journey back to the hospital. This cycle of intervention is continued in the hospital. None of this activity affecting V would arise "but for" the original negligence so A will remain liable unless and until either an unforeseeable B intervenes (e.g. negligently drives his car and collides with the ambulance), or a paramidic or member of the hospital staff is so seriously negligent that it becomes a new cause of action.


Acts of the claimant

See Acts of the claimant

Remoteness

For the full page, see remoteness

Loss of a chance

See loss of chance in English law

In loss of chance cases, the court is invited to assess hypothetical outcomes, either affecting the claimant or a third party where the defendant's negligence deprived the claimant of the opportunity to obtain a benefit or avoid a loss. Although it has been relatively unsuccessful in cases of medical negligence, it does provide a remedy in professional negligence generally. In the English law of tort, professional negligence is a subset of the general rules on negligence to cover the situation in which the defendant has represented him or herself as having more than average skills and abilities. ...


Loss of a right

See loss of right in English law

Recent medical negligence cases suggest tacit recognition of a more rights-based approach to damage.


References

  • Cane, Peter. (1999). Atiyah’s Accidents, Compensation and the Law. Sixth edition, Chapter 5. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521606101
  • Deakin, Simon; Johnston, Angus & Markesinis, B. S. (2003). Markesinis and Deakin's Tort Law. pp. 174-201. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0199257124
  • Hart, H. L. A. & Honore, A. M. (1985). Causation in the Law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • The Law Commission. (2001). The Illegality Defence in Tort. Consultation Paper No 160 [2]
  • Luckham, Mary. "Informed consent to medical treatment and the issue of causation: the decision of the House of Lords in Chester v Afshar [2004] UKHL 41" [3]
  • Rogers, W. V. H. Winfield and Jolowicz on Tort, pp. 195-231. London: Sweet & Maxwell. ISBN 0421768509
  • Stevens, Robert. An Opportunity to Reflect [4]
  • Weir, Tony. (2002). Tort Law. Chapters 4 & 5. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0199249989

 
 

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