Chapter 2 Answers to end-of-chapter questions

Introduction to the tort of negligence

1. How do negligence in the everyday or general sense and the tort of negligence differ?

While we might talk about someone being ‘negligent’ if they are simply careless or neglectful, in the tort of negligence ‘negligence’ has a particular meaning: the person must have fallen below a standard of care imposed by law. Not all actions which are negligent in the first sense, will be negligent in the second. In order to establish a successful claim in the tort of negligence each element of the tort must be established (see Q2 below). This means that not all examples of everyday negligence or carelessness generate liability in the tort of negligence. Conversely, a defendant may occasionally be held to be negligent as a matter of law even though we would not view them as having acted carelessly – see for example Nettleship v Weston.

2. What must be established in order for there to be a successful claim in the tort of negligence?

In order for there to be a successful action in the tort of negligence the defendant must a) owe the claimant a duty of care, b) they must have breached this duty (by falling below the standard of care required), c) this breach must have caused the claimant's loss (both in fact and law) and, finally, d) the defendant must be unable to raise any effective defences (see further section 2.5).

3. Why would the courts ever want to deny a claim when someone is injured through another's carelessness?

This is a possible essay question in this area. In essence, this question is asking why the courts would ever want to deny a duty of care. In other words, why would we say that a defendant who has been careless and whose carelessness has caused another injury should nevertheless escape liability? You need to consider the various factors the courts have identified for denying duties (for example, 'floodgates' arguments and the risk of 'crushing liability').  Also it is worth remembering that carelessly or indeed deliberately causing another harm is not always wrongful, in the sense of being undesirable (see further section 3.1).

4. What is the ratio of Donoghue?

This seems to be quite a narrow question, requiring a short answer. However a strong answer would move away from simply describing the facts and conclusion of Donoghue and would explore its impact on the development of the tort of negligence. Have another look at section 2.2 which outlines the three possible ratios (from the 'narrow' ratio in relation to the duty of owed by a manufacturer to the ultimate consumer and the creation of a 'new' category of negligence to Lord Atkin's somewhat broader 'neighbour principle') and section 2.3 which explores the subsequent expansion of the tort of negligence. Robert Heuston's article 'Donoghue v Stevenson in Retrospect' ((1957) 20 MLR 1) is the best place to start if you want to do some further reading on this.

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