- Can Keith be held negligent for his actions against Ruth?
- Can the defense of contributory negligence be availed by Keith in his favor?
The law of negligence is the applicable law that in the given scenario.
The law of negligence implies that the defendant and plaintiff are so close to each other that it becomes the responsibility of the defendant to carry his acts with all reasonable care and diligence so that no injury should be caused to the plaintiff because of such acts and omissions. In Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) the concept of the law of negligence was dealt in core by Lord Atkin. He establishes that in order to prove negligence on the part of the defendant there are three broad principles which must be proved by the plaintiff. Thus, the three prime elements under the law of negligence are: (Francis, 2007)
i. Duty of care – The principle of duty of care implies that the acts of the defendant must not be of such a nature so that it results in causing harm to the plaintiff. There is a duty that is imposed upon the defendant under the law that he must be very careful while indulging in his actions so that no injury is caused to the plaintiff because of such actions Natcraft Pty Ltd & Anor v Det Norske Veritas & Anor(2002). But, there are two requirements that must be established in order to hold the defendant own with duty of care, that is, (Allan, 2007)
Firstly, that the plaintiff and the defendant must be neighbors of each other. The principle of neighborhood signifies that the parties are so close and in proximate relationship with each other that any actions which is undertaken by the defendant must fall upon the plaintiff, that is, the plaintiff must be affected by the actions of the defendant and thus the defendant must carefully tackle his acts against those person who are his neighbors (Albrighton v Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1980). (Cameron, et, al. 2007)
Secondly, the defendant if can reasonably anticipate the impact of his actions then he must carry out his actions in such manner so that the impact that can be reasonably foreseeable by him can be mitigated. He must be very careful against all those impact which he can reasonably anticipate (Rogers v Whitaker (1992). (Jürgen & Wolfgang, 2006)
Thus, the defendant owns a duty of care against his neighbors (plaintiff)
and against all those impact which can be reasonably anticipated by the defendant
ii. Breach of duty of care – Every defendant who is imposed with the duty of care must perform his duty of care with utmost care and diligence. But the required level of care and diligence that is expected from any defendant is different in different situation. If the risk that is associated with any activity is high then the level of care is also high and vice versa. If the plaintiff is a child then the level of care that is expected from the defendant is also high in comparison of the level of care that is expected from the defendant when the plaintiff is a normal prudent man. Thus, the defendant must cater his duty of care as per the desired level of care Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee(1957). When the defendant is not able to meet the desired level of care that is expected from him then there is breach of duty of care on the part of the defendant. (Kim, et.al, 2014)
iii. Damages – Because of the breach of duty of care on the part of the defendant it is necessary that some loss must be sustained by the plaintiff. But it is necessary that the loss that is caused to the plaintiff must be caused to him because of the acts of the defendant, there must be direct link amid the loss that is caused to the plaintiff and the break of duty of care on the part of the defendant (Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd or "Wagon Mound(No. 1), (1961). Also, the defendant is only responsible for such damages which can be reasonably predicted by the defendant, if the damages are very remote and is beyond the imagination of the defendant, then, the defendant is not answerable for the same (Mount Isa Mines Ltd v Pusey (1971). (Andy & Douglas,2013)
Thus, the duty of care which is violated by the defendant an which has caused damages to the plaintiff will only make the defendant liable under the law of negligence.
But, the defendant has the power to reduce his liability that is imposed upon him under the law of negligence if he can prove one of the damages that are provided to him under law. One of the defense is the defense of contributory negligence.
Under the defense of contributory negligence, the loss that is caused to the plaintiff is not only because of the acts of the defendant alone but it is the plaintiff who has also acted negligently and which has also contributed to her own loss (Joslyn v Berryman (2003)).
Thus, the defendant can reduce his liability to the extent the plaintiff has contributed to his own loss and is only liable for such damages which are caused to the plaintiff because of the negligent actions of the defendant. (Douglas, 2016)
The law is now applied to the facts of the case.
Application of law
Keith is not a qualified carpenter though he claimed so. Ruth is a homeowner. The stairs of the house of Ruth were rotting and thus she hired Keith for its repair.
It is submitted that Keith can be held negligent in his actions and Ruth can bring an action against Keith to claim the damages that are suffered by her. However, in order to prove Keith negligent in his actions, Ruth has to prove that a duty of care is violated by Keith which was the main reason for the injuries that are sustained by Ruth.
Thus, the law is now applied to the facts of the case which prove that Keith was negligent in his actions.
i. Keith can be imposed with the duty of care only when Ruth is his neighbor and there is presence of reasonable forseeability.
Keith and Ruth are neighbors because Keith was assigned with the tasks of repairing the stairs of Ruth. Ruth will eventually use the said staircase and if the stairs are not mended properly then it will defiantly cause injuries to Ruth, because of the collapse of the stairs. Thus, the actions of Keith will directly affect Ruth and might cause injuries to her. So, both Ruth and Keith are neighbors of each other as rightly held in Albrighton v Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
Also, if Keith is repairing the stair case then he is aware that if the stairs are not mended properly then there are full chances that the stairs will collapse. So, Keith can easily anticipate with reasonable manner the impact of his actions. Thus, there is presence of reasonable forseeability of the actions of Keith as rightly held in Rogers v Whitaker.
So, by the presence of the neighborhood principle and the reasonable forseeability principle, there exists a duty of care upon Keith that he must cater his duties of mending the stairs in such a manner so that no kind of loss is caused to Ruth. Keith is under the obligation of duty of care under the law of negligence.
ii. But, the duty of care which should be properly performed by Keith is not cater by him properly. The level of standard of care that is expected from Keith is not by him. Keith is supposed to use a hardwood while mending the stairs, but, instead he uses a left over piece of chipboard. The required level of care was met id the hardwood would had been used. But, instead a low quality of chipboard was used which is much below the level of care that is expected from Keith. It is settled law in Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committeethat if the required level of care that is need in any given situation is not met by the defendant then he is in breach of his duty of care. Likewise, Keith has not acted upon the desired level of care and thus there is breach of duty of care on the part of Keith.
iii. Furthermore, because Keith has used a low quality of chipboard for the repairs of the stairs (he should have used a hardwood for the repair work) because of which the stairs swelled when it rain heavily and was not capable enough to take the load of Ruth, because of which the stairs collapsed. Ruth is not aware of the same and thus sustained injuries when she falls from the broken stairs. Now, the loss that is caused to Ruth is because of the breach of duty of care by Keith. The loss that is caused is directly resulted from the breach of Keith’s duty of care, thus, there is causation that existed amid the act of Keith and the impact on Ruth as rightly held in Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd.
Also, Keith is aware that if low quality of wood will be used then there are chances that Ruth might fell. Thus, the damages were also reasonably predictable and are not remote in nature.
Thus, because of the breach of duty of care by Keith there are losses that are caused to Ruth.
But, Keith can be held liable for only those losses which are reasonably anticipated by him. Keith will not pay Ruth the expenses that are incurred by Ruth for the next 12 months after her recovery. This is because such damages are not caused to Ruth because of the negligence of Keith. Keith will only pay damages that are sustained by Ruth for a period of two months.
So, Keith can be held negligent in is actions because the duty of care that is imposed upon him under law is not met by him which has resulted in breach and this breach has caused damages to Ruth.
So, Ruth can bring an action of negligence against Keith.
But, Keith has a valid defense that is provided to him under the law of negligence.
Keith can prove that Ruth was also negligent and has contributed to her own loss. Thus, there is contributory negligence on the part of Ruth. This is because, when the loss is caused to Ruth at that time she was moving done the stairs and at that time she was carrying various equipments because of which she is not able to see the stairs, and thus she is not able to view that the stair are already collapsed. If she would have not carrying the equipments which has obscured her visions the chances of her injury would have been mitigated. Thus, Ruth with her own negligent acts has resulted in her loss as rightly held in Joslyn v Berryman.
So, Keith can rely on the defense of contributory negligence and can reduce his liability proportionately to the extent Ruth was negligent which has resulted in her own loss
It is thus concluded that the duty of care which is imposed in law upon Keith is not fully cater by him and because of which losses are caused to Ruth. Thus, Ruth can sue Keith under the law of negligence and must pay the damages of to months that are system by Ruth. But, the damages of next 12 months are not payable because the same are too remote to predict.
But, Keith can rely on the defense of contributory negligence and can prove that it is the actions of Ruth also which has contributed to her own loss and thus can mitigate his liability to the extent Ruth was negligent in her actions.
Andy, G., & Douglas, F. (2013). Business Law 2014. Pearson Higher Education AU.
Allan, B. ((2007). ). Rediscovering the Law of Negligence. . Bloomsbury Publishing.
Cameron, S., Ian, K., & Malcolm, P. (2007). The Australian Medico-legal Handbook. Elsevier Australia.
Douglas, H. (2016). The Law of Intervening Causation. . Routledge.
Francis, T., Peter, C., & Mark, L. (2007). The Law of Torts in Australia. Oxford University Press.
Kim, A., Bonnie, B., & Sheryl, L. (2014). Ethics and Law for Australian Nurses. . Cambridge University Press
Jürgen, B., & Wolfgang, W. (2006). Third-Party Liability of Classification Societies: A Comparative Perspective. Springer Science & Business Media.
Albrighton v Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (1980).
Bolam v Friern Hospital Management Committee (1957).
Donoghue v Stevenson (1932).
Joslyn v Berryman (2003).
Mount Isa Mines Ltd v Pusey (1971).
Natcraft Pty Ltd & Anor v Det Norske Veritas & Anor (2002).
Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd or "Wagon Mound (No. 1), (1961).
Rogers v Whitaker (1992).