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Encyclopedia > Roe v Minister of Health

In the English law of tort, Roe v Minister of Health [1954] 2 AER 131 is a decision of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales which has had a significant influence on the common law throughout the common law world. 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. ... 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). ... 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). ... 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). ...


The facts

Roe and another patient underwent surgery in a hospital managed under the general supervision of the Minister of Health. Before entering the operating theatre, an anaesthetic consisting of Nupercaine was administered by means of a lumbar puncture. At that time, it was common practice to store such anaesthetic in glass ampoules immersed in a phenol solution to reduce the risk of infection. Unknown to the staff, the glass had a number of micro-crack which were invisible to the eye but which allowed the phenol to penetrate. When used, the phenol-contaminated anaesthetic caused permanent paraplegia. Anesthesia (AE), also anaesthesia (BE), is the process of blocking the perception of pain and other sensations. ... In medicine, a lumbar puncture (colloquially known as a spinal tap) is a diagnostic procedure that is done to collect a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for biochemical, microbiological and cytological analysis, or rarely to relieve increased CSF pressure. ... Phenol, also known under the old name carbolic acid, is a colorless crystalline solid with a typical sweet tarry odor. ... Paraplegia is a condition in which the lower part of a patients body is paralyzed and cannot move. ...


The law

As the law then stood, to find negligence proved, there must be a duty of care, the defendant must have breached that duty, and that breach must have caused the loss or damage sustained by the plaintiff. The standard of care required of defendants was judged by applying an objective test, considering what a reasonable "man" would or would not have done in the same situation: the hypothetical "man" on the Clapham omnibus was first mentioned by Bowen LJ. in McQuire v Western Morning News (1903) 2 KB 100. In Hall v Brooklands Auto Racing Club (1933) 1 KB 205, it was held that it was the duty of the operators to ensure that the racing track they had designed was as free from danger as reasonable care and skill could make it, but that they were not insurers against accidents which no reasonable diligence could foresee. Similarly, in Glasgow Corporation v Muir (1943) 2 AER 44, a defendant was not negligent in allowing a group to enter a tea room to escape bad weather, because the reasonable "man" would not have foreseen that these invitees would injure any of the other customers. 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. ... In tort law, the standard of care is the degree of prudence and caution required of an individual who is under a duty of care. ... The reasonable man or reasonable person standard is a legal fiction that originated in the development of the common law. ...


The decision

Denning LJ. said, “We must not look at the 1947 incident with 1954 spectacles.” It was held that the micro-cracks were not foreseeable given the prevailing scientific knowledge of the time. Thus, since no reasonable anaesthetist would have stored the anaesthetic differently, it was inappropriate to hold the hospital management liable for failing to take precautions. That the profession had changed its practice in the light of experience proved that the profession was responsible in its self-regulation. In 1954, anaesthetists coloured the phenol with a dye. If a vial became contaminated, the dye showed inside the vial. These vials were then discarded. But, given that the hospital was applying the best practice of the time, there was no negligence. 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... Yarn drying after being dyed in the early American tradition, at Conner Prairie living history museum. ...


 
 

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