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Principles of Negligence

Negligence is misconduct that leaves an arbitrary risk of danger to another person. Unlike other intentional torts, negligent is an unwilling tort that involves a failure of one person’s failure to take a realistic care in protecting the other person or that person’s property. However, even though a person suffering from that a negligent misconduct would usually recover damages, sometimes those damages may be unforeseeable hence the claim becomes unsuccessful. This paper will examine a case between Keith and Ruth and decide whether Ruth can recover damages or not.

This question is an issue of two matters; the first part is a discussion to find out whether all the principles of negligence exist. The second part of the paper would look at the defense that Keith can raise so that he can defeat Ruth’s claim. Similarly, the paper will look at the elements of a negligence claim

While awarding the damages for a claim of negligence, the courts examine the existence of three principles. Namely, the claimant must establish that there was a duty to care owed, the defendant breached that duty, and the claimant should show damages suffered as a result (Purchase, 2015). Any claimant who fails to verify all these components doesn't win the case.

Duty to Care

This one is the first element of a claim in negligence. (Anderson, 2013) suggests that the claimant just needs to prove to the court that the defendant owed a duty of care to act in the way a reasonable, prudent man would have acted given the similar circumstances. In the cases of negligence, the amount of care to required depends on the defendant’s profession or the defendant relationship with the claimant (Beatty, Samuelson, & Bredeson, 2013). That's to say; professionals usually have a duty to execute their work in the manner that a reasonable man in their profession would do. For example, professional like a doctor, lawyer, carpenter, or engineer will have to perform their duties exerting the same skills that a reasonable person with their skills would use.

Apart from the expertise in one’s study, the law also puts a duty of care where a party alleges that to be an expert or professes certain knowledge. For example, in (Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd, 1964), the claimants asked for the defendant to provide stability assurance statements of a debtor before providing credit. The defendant gave a misstatement which the claimant used to issue a loan. The debtor went broke and the claimant sued the defendant for professional negligent. The court ruled that there was a duty owed through ‘negligent misstatement.’

Duty to Care

Coming back to Keith and Ruth case, Keith advertises that he is a qualified carpenter. This statement made Ruth hire him for the job, and hence he had owed Ruth a duty to provide the same skills that a skilled carpenter should have provided. So up to that point, Ruth’s claim against Keith negligence passes the first test.

This one is the second element. After proving that the defendant owed a duty to care, the claimant must also demonstrate that the defendant neglected the said duty (Riches, Allen, & Keenan, 2009). To clarify, (Bailey, 2011) states that a professional need to exert the standard of care, and this is the same care expected from persons in the same profession as that of the defendant. In this case, it’s the standard care that a qualified carpenter would exert. An excellent example that fits this case is the case of (Willsher v Essex Area Health Authority, 1988). In this case, a junior doctor gave a premature baby too much oxygen resulting to negative condition on the baby’s retina. There existed some other factors could have caused the same conditions, but the judge found the defendant in breach of duty and stated that a junior doctor owed the same standard of care similar to that of a qualified doctor. Similarly, Ruth’s case passes the second test since Kith owed the same standard of care similar to a qualified carpenter, and he breached this duty.

A claim for negligence would need the claimant to demonstrate that the alleged losses or damages he/she is claiming resulted from the defendant’s breach of duty. In (Clarkson, Miller, Cross, & Clarkson, 2015), the work states that this component constitutes two other factors. One is the proof that defendant truly caused the loss. This one is usually called the ‘causation.’ The second one is to prove that the damages qualify to be foreseeable i.e. not be too remote.

Causation

This one is simply an establishment of a link between the defendant’s breach of duty and the claimant’s damages. In (Kubasek, Browne, Dhooge, Herron, & Barkacs, 2015), causation requires the claimant to prove his/her case on a balance of probability that it was the defendant’s negligent that brought the damages or materially led to the damages. Usually called the ‘but for’ test. For example, in (Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington Hospital Management Committee, 1969) the claim failed to establish that the defendants breach of duty caused the claimant’s husband death. In this case, a widow was suing the hospital since the hospital sent the husband home without performing the examination. Later the husband died. The court held the hospital liable only for failing to examine the deceased but not for his death. That was because the test showed that the husband could have died of poisoning.

Breach of the Duty to Care

Foreseeability and Remoteness of Damage

This rule requires that the damages that the claimant is seeking to recover should not be too remote. In other words, damages should reasonably foreseeable damages are those a reasonable man could have clearly see that his actions would cause them. For example, in (Overseas Tankship Ltd v Morts Dock & Engineering Co Ltd, 1961). The court held that the damages could not be recovered since would no one expected a fire could ignite in such an extraordinary way.  The defendants discharged oil from the vessel spreading it to a wharf where there was some undergoing welding. The welding had to stop until the defendants confirmed that it could not ignite. Days later, some cotton waste wafting in the oil ignited due to sparks coming from the welding, and it destroyed the claimant’s wharf. The court found that the damages were not reasonably foreseeable.

Following above explanations, Ruth’s case would still pass this third test. For one, the causation factor exists. If Keith had used better materials, they wouldn't have collapsed due to rain. Then had the treads not collapsed, Ruth would not have faced the accident. Therefore, Keith negligence resulted to Ruth’s accident. The damages are also reasonably foreseeable. A reasonable man would know that if stairs are badly put in place, they will cause accident that can lead to death or injuries. Regarding these explanations, Ruth would be entitled to all her claims.

There is also a chance for a defendant to bring his/her defense to a claim of negligence. This defense is brought under the principles of contributory negligence (Mann, Roberts, & Smith, 2012). In establishing the defense, the defendant uses the same elements brought within the claim. These are the duty to provide standard care, the breach, causation, and damages. On the contrary, the defendant tries to prove that any of these were caused by either the negligent of the claimant or participating to the negligence of the defendant.

However, in most of the cases, basing the defense on contributory negligence only works as a partial defense. That’s to say; the defense doesn’t exonerate the defendant completely, it only works by reducing the amount to be compensated to the claimant. For example, in (Sayers v Harlow UDC, 1958) the court found that the claimant also contributed to her damages. This case arose after the claimant used a public lavatory belonging to the defendant. The door closed behind the claimant and she found that she could find her way out. Rather than attracting attention for help, she decided to make her way out by climbing over the door. Unfortunately, she fell and sustained injuries. She commenced suit for the defendant for a breach of duty to take the reasonable care. The court ruled that it was the claimant’s contribution to her injuries. She could only recover 75% of the damages.

The Defendant’s Breach Caused the Claimant’s Loss or Damage

Another case where there was an indirect contribution to the claimant’s damages was held in (Froom v Butcher, 1976). In this case, the claimant succumbed injuries in a car accident that resulted from the defendant’s negligent driving. However, the claimant was found to have not been wearing his seatbelt when the accident occurred. If the claimant had his seatbelt, he would not have so severely injured. The court held stated that a prudent man would also take precautions to guard him/herself against the prospects of negligence caused by others. So the claimant contributed to his injuries by not wearing a seatbelt. The court could only award the claimant 80% of the claimed damages.

For Keith to win in his defense, he need to prove that Ruth unreasonably decided to face the risk. From the information given, the treads collapsed at night. One the next day, Ruth decided to go for her routine duty of feeding her birds. From this information, there is no way Ruth faced the risk unreasonably for she didn’t even know the status of the treads.

An example of this situation is the landmark case of (Greenland v Chaplin,1850). In this case, the defendant was the owner of a steamboat which negligently crashed with the claimant’s steamboat. The claimant was a passenger in the defendant’s boat. The crash made the defendant’s steamboat anchor to collapse on the plaintiff breaking his leg. The defendant argued that the plaintiff contributed to his injuries by sitting adjacent to the anchor. However, the court rejected that defense it could have only allowed the defense if the claimant’s negligence contributed to the root of the accident.

In other words, courts generally hold that the failure of the claimant to take precautions that would minimize the serious accidental would not be considered if such measures do not affect the likelihood of the occurrence of the accident (Miller, & Jentz, 2013). Take for an instance the case of (Vosburg v. Putney, 1891). In this case, it was Putney who intentionally hit Vosburg in class, and later Vosburg lost his leg. The preexisting problems contributed the severity of the injury. Giving this case a different twist, suppose the kick was an accident, could it be ruled that Vosburg contributed to the injury by coming to school with an unprotected leg? Similarly, Ruth could not have walked through the stair as she didn’t know whether they were broken. So Keith defense would definitely fail.

Conclusion

Cases of negligence are common. Most of them are unintentional, but that doesn’t dispute the fact that there is intentional negligence. However, it’s of paramount knowledge that intentional negligence can bring other costs like punitive damages. All in all, the aim of this paper was to cover the issue of negligence, together with a defense to negligence.

References

Purchase, D. (2015). Chief officer (2nd ed., p. 87). Jones & Bartlett Publishers.

Anderson, W. (2013). Principles of Caribbean Environmental Law (6th ed.). West Academic.

Beatty, J., Samuelson, S., & Bredeson, D. (2013). Introduction to business law (4th ed., p. 95). Mason: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Riches, S., Allen, V., & Keenan, D. (2009). Keenan and Riches' business law (9th ed., p. 332). Harlow, England: Pearson/Longman.

Clarkson, K., Miller, R., Cross, F., & Clarkson, K. (2015). Business law (13th ed., p. 131). Cengage Learning.

Kubasek, N., Browne, M., Dhooge, L., Herron, D., & Barkacs, L. (2015). Dynamic business law (3rd ed., p. 137). McGraw-Hill Education.

Mann, R., Roberts, B., & Smith, L. (2012). Smith & Roberson's business law (15th ed., p. 147). Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Miller, R., & Jentz, G. (2013). Fundamentals of business law (9th ed., p. 80). Mason, Ohio: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Bailey, J. (2011). Construction law (1st ed., p. 748). London: Informa Law.

Cases

Willsher v Essex Area Health Authority, 1 AC 1074 HL (1988)

Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v Heller & Partners Ltd, AC 465 (1964).

Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington Hospital, 1 QB 428 (1969)

Sayers v Harlow UDC, 1 WLR 623 (1958)

Froom v Butcher, 3 All ER 520 (1975)

Greenland v Chaplin, 5 Ex 243 (1850)

Vosburg v. Putney, 80 Wis. 523, (Wisc.1891)

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