Chapter 2 Interactive key cases

The victim of wounding declined, on religious grounds, a blood transfusion which would have saved her life.

This did not break the causal connection between the act of wounding and death. D was not entitled to claim that the victim’s refusal of medical treatment because of her religious beliefs broke the chain of causation. He had to take her in the condition in which he found her.

D and V met at a club. They were ‘messing about’ by the sea, when V fell in. D simply walked away and left her to drown. D was convicted of manslaughter.

The basis of the conviction was unclear. It may be that because they had embarked on a risky activity together, they could be said to have undertaken to rescue each other if either got into trouble.

In Cheshire [1991], V did not die until two months after being shot by D.

The Court of Appeal held that even though medical negligence was the immediate cause of V’s death, it did not exclude D’s responsibility. The negligence was not so independent of D’s acts, and in itself so potent in causing death, that D’s acts could be regarded as insignificant.

D failed to inform a uniformed officer searching D’s pockets that there were exposed hypodermic syringes in those pockets.

This case extended the Miller principle to include the situation where the original conduct was advertent and there was a reasonably foreseeable risk of injury to another.

A uniformed police officer stood and watched a man being beaten and kicked to death in the gutter, from only 30 yards away.

The officer made no move to intervene or summon assistance. He was convicted of the common law offence of misconduct of an officer.

In a decision which appears inconsistent with those mentioned earlier, the defendant company stored diesel in a tank which had an unlocked tap on it. The tap was opened by a person unknown and the entire contents ran down the drain into the river. The charge was causing pollution; the issue was whether the act of the unknown person broke the chain of causation.

The House of Lords held the principle was not whether the third party’s act was free, deliberate, and informed but whether it was something normal (which it was) or something extraordinary (which it was not). This decision was approved in Kennedy [2008] (HL), but limited to the specific statute in question.

D gave her sister heroin. The sister self-administered it.

The Court of Appeal held that a duty arose when D realized her sister had overdosed and did not summon medical help. Lord Judge CJ held: when a person has created or contributed to the creation of a state of affairs which he knows, or ought reasonably to know, has become life threatening, a consequent duty on him to act by taking reasonable steps to save the other’s life will normally arise.

D (V’s father) and D2 (V’s stepmother) deliberately failed to feed V, who died. D and D2 were both convicted of murder.

D owed V a duty as parent, but D2 also owed a duty as she had assumed de facto (meaning in reality or as good as) parental responsibility.

V was given a large volume of medicine to which he had previously shown intolerance.

This was described as abnormal medical treatment and it broke the chain of causation between D (who had stabbed V) and V’s death.

At the victim’s request, D prepared a syringe of heroin and gave it to V. V self-injected the drug and subsequently died.

The House of Lords allowed D’s appeal, holding that where a defendant has been involved in the supply of a class A drug, which is then freely and voluntarily self-administered by the person to whom it was supplied, and the administration of the drug then causes his death, D has not caused the death where V is a fully informed and responsible adult.

D, a squatter, fell asleep smoking a cigarette. When he woke up, he realized a fire had started, but did not extinguish it or summon help.

The House of Lords held that even where the original conduct was inadvertent, when D subsequently became aware of the danger he had caused, he was under a duty to prevent or reduce the risk by his own efforts, or if necessary, by summoning the fire brigade.

There was a shoot-out between D and the police. D held V in front of him as a human shield. In returning fire, the police shot and killed V.

The Court of Appeal said that occasionally the intervention of a third person might break the causal chain, but a reasonable act performed in self-defence does not.

D worked as a level-crossing operator. He forgot to close the gate and V was killed by a train.

D’s contractual duties were used to find a duty because his breach of contract endangered the public.

D and V had each self-injected with drugs. When V showed signs of overdose, D first tried to revive him and then left V outside his house. D telephoned V’s mother asking her to collect her son.

V later died of hypothermia and opiate intoxication. D owed V a duty of care; he had assumed the duty when he tried to revive him, and breached it when he left him outside in the cold.

D (V’s sister) and D2 (D’s partner) were convicted of manslaughter. D and D2 had failed to summon help for V, who had died whilst under their care. V had been anorexic and had refused to eat.

The Court of Appeal held there was a legal duty, not just because V was D’s sister but also because V lived in D’s and D2’s house, and they had voluntarily assumed a duty to act by their attempts to care for her. The decision is controversial and you are strongly advised to read commentary on it.

In Smith [1959], V’s death only occurred after he had suffered a series of unfortunate events (including being dropped and being given the wrong medical treatment).

The stabbing by D was an ‘operating and substantial cause’ of V’s death’.

D threw acid on V (her ex-boyfriend). This left him (in the words of the Court of Appeal) terribly disfigured, completely paralyzed, and in a permanent state of unbearable constant physical and psychological pain that could not be ameliorated by his doctors. He could not bear continuing to live and went to Belgium, where euthanasia is lawful, and was killed.

The Court of Appeal held that it was open to a jury to find that D caused V’s death. V’s decision to seek euthanasia was not voluntary, but a constrained choice. The original wound was still influencing his decision.

V jumped from the moving car being driven by D and was injured.

The question for the jury was whether V’s jumping was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of D’s action. If it was, D caused V’s injuries (see eg Roberts (1971), where V jumped from a moving car because D, the driver, had made unwanted sexual advances. V’s reaction was reasonably foreseeable and did not break the chain of causation). Where V’s action was not foreseeable (eg if V jumped out of the car for a laugh) then D would not be said to have caused the injuries.

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