R v ADOMAKO

The difference between criminal negligence and manslaughter is discussed in a case that showcased the immense vulnerability with which we place our care, and therefore our lives, in the hands of medical professionals on any given day.

Having been summoned to serve as a locum anaesthetist at Mayday Hospital, London, during a routine eye operation, the appellant was alerted by an alarm on the Dinamap machine, whereupon he immediately administered two intravenous doses of atropine on the assumption that the patient was having what he thought was an ocular cardia reflex, even though the actual cause of the alarm had resulted from a disconnection of the endotracheal tube providing oxygen to the patient, some four and a half minutes earlier.

In fact, it wasn’t until the appellant noticed how the patient had begun to turn blue, that he attempted to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which proved ultimately futile when the patient then suffered a cardiac arrest and died; all of which, resulted in the appellant appearing before the Central Criminal Court on charges of manslaughter, wherein the jury found him guilty.

Having challenged the judgment in the Court of Appeals, the appellant argued that while a failure to notice the disconnection was short of the duty of care prescribed him, his actions following his discovery were reasonable given the circumstances, and that the court ought to have found him culpable only of misdiagnosis and not criminal negligence, or even manslaughter as convicted.

However, with consideration of the proportional trial direction, the court explained that when attempting to determine involuntary manslaughter, a jury must first establish (i) the existence of a duty, (ii) a breach of that duty that amounts to a death, and (iii) negligence sufficient enough to warrant a criminal conviction, and so having deliberated upon the facts presented, the court held that:

“It was in our view clearly open to the jury to conclude that the appellant’s failure to perform his essential and in effect sole duty to see that his patient was breathing satisfactorily and to cope with the breathing emergency which should have been obvious to him, justified a verdict of guilty. They were entitled to conclude his failure was more than mere inadvertence and constituted gross negligence of the degree necessary for manslaughter.”

Whereupon the appellant’s case was presented to the House of Lords on the question as to whether in cases of manslaughter, the jury ought to be guided by the test first used in R v Lawrence and now commonly applied in motor vehicle related deaths, or by those principles used in the trial court.

Here, the House first turned to R v Bateman, in which the Court of Appeal had held that:

“[I]n order to establish criminal liability the facts must be such that, in the opinion of the jury, the negligence of the accused went beyond a mere matter of compensation between subjects and showed such disregard for the life and safety of others as to amount to a crime against the state and conduct deserving punishment.”

R v Bateman

While the House noted that in Andrews v Director of Public Prosecutions it had similarly held that:

“Simple lack of care such as will constitute civil liability is not enough: for purposes of the criminal law there are degrees of negligence: and a very high degree of negligence is required to be proved before the felony is established.”

Andrews v Director of Public Prosecutions

However, in Lawrence the test for recklessness was reliant upon the fact:

(i) “[T]hat the defendant was in fact driving the vehicle in such a manner as to create an obvious and serious risk of causing physical injury to some other person who might happen to be using the road or of doing substantial damage to property…”

R v Lawrence

And:

(ii) “[T]hat in driving in that manner the defendant did so without having given any thought to the possibility of there being any such risk or, having recognised that there was some risk involved, had nonetheless gone on to take it.”

R v Lawrence

Thus, the House held that when ascertaining liability for manslaughter, the courts ought only to rely upon the  Bateman and Andrews tests in order to simplify their application and assist a jury, although should the judge feel so compelled, he might also consider the Lawrence test where wholly applicable.

Upon which, the court dismissed the appeal in full, while reminding the parties that:

“To make it obligatory on trial judges to give directions in law which are so elaborate that the ordinary member of the jury will have great difficulty in following them, and even greater difficulty in retaining them in his memory for the purpose of application in the jury room, is no service to the cause of justice.” 

 

JOSEPH CONSTANTINE v IMPERIAL SMELTING CORP.

ITALY – DECEMBER 10: Steamship on the seashore, by Vittorio Avondo (1836-1910). Italy, 19th century. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

While the doctrine of frustration relies upon the existence of an unforeseen and so unexpected event, its design is not one that requires any element of blame in order to apply, as was seen in this case between a corporation and shipowner.

In August of 1836, the now appellants contracted to supply one of their steamships to the respondents for the purposes of transportation to a number of international sea ports by way of commercial enterprise.

Having been used for the reasons agreed, the ship was later anchored over the Christmas period, while awaiting further use until its return in January 1837.

Unfortunately, while dockside the ship suffered an enormous explosion that sent the auxiliary boiler over one hundred and sixty four feet from its original position, while the primary boilers were forced backwards by the blast; all of which, rendered the vessel inoperable and thereby unable to complete its journey to the respondents.

Having cited frustration of contract, the appellants looked to leave matters as they were; however, the respondents argued that the explosion had arisen by way of negligence and so damages were owed for the loss accrued. 

First heard in the Court of the Kings Bench, the judge held that the appellants were merely unwitting victims of unforeseen circumstances, particularly when a Board of Trade Enquiry had failed to establish any liability in relation to the cause of the explosion, or any possible negligence shown by those working on the ship at the time.

And so, in closing the court held that:

“It is plain that it has not been established that they were guilty of negligence and there is no finding of any negligence. The worst finding against them is under the one heading of possibility of negligence.”

To which the respondents challenged the finding in the Court of Appeals, who awarded in their favour while holding that:

“A party prima facie guilty of a failure to perform his contract cannot escape under the plea of frustration, unless he proves that the frustration occurred without his default. There is no frustration in the legal sense unless he proves affirmatively that the cause was not brought into operation by his default.”

After being denied leave to appeal, the House of Lords Appeal Committee granted it so that the issue of liability could be afforded examined and conclusive clarification, and so the matter was once again given due discussion.

In the first instance, Viscount Simon turned to Taylor v Caldwell; in which, the court held that: 

“[I]n contracts in which the performance depends on the continued existence of a given person or thing, a condition is implied that the impossibility of performance arising from the perishing of the person or thing shall excuse the performance.”

Taylor v Caldwell

While Viscount Maugham noted that in Hirji Muji v Cheong Yue Steamship Co Ltd, the Privy Council held that:

“[W]hatever the consequences of the frustration may be upon the conduct of the parties, its legal effect does not depend on their intention or their opinions, or even knowledge, as to the event, which has brought this about, but on its occurrence in such circumstances as show it to be inconsistent with further prosecution of the adventure.”

Hiri Muji v Cheong Yue Steamship Co Ltd

Before illustrating that in Bank Line Ltd v Arthur Capel & Co, the House of Lords held that:

“I think it is now well settled that the principle of frustration of an adventure assumes that the frustration arises without blame or fault on either side. Reliance cannot be placed on a self-induced frustration; indeed, such conduct might give the other party the option to treat the contract as repudiated.”

Bank Line Ltd v Arthur Capel & Co

And so, it was that a uniform House held how the appeal court judgment was to be reversed on the very simple yet clear principle that: 

“[W]hen frustration in the legal sense occurs, it does not merely provide one party with a defence in an action brought by the other. It kills the contract itself and discharges both parties automatically.”

BROWN v. KENDALL

Burden of proof in an action for trespass and assault and battery falls subject to examination when after a fight between two dogs, the plaintiff is left seriously injured and in want of redress.

In 1850, the two parties were caught up in a vicious dog fight involving their respective animals, and while the now deceased defendant took deliberate steps to separate them, the plaintiff was accidentally struck in the eye by the defendant’s walking stick, as he stepped backwards during the melee.

In response, the plaintiff commenced a suit for tortious damages for trespass vi et armis (trespass by force and arms) on the supposition that the injurious blow was a deliberate act, and that the carelessness and neglect of the defendant was the cause, and not the location of the plaintiff when the stick was drawn back.

As was common at the time of litigation, Chapter 93 § 7 of the Massachusetts Revised Statutes allowed clams for assault and battery to stand, despite the death of the accused, and so following his passing, the defendant was represented by his executrix, whereupon the district court judge instructed the jury to decide upon the principle that:

“If the jury believe, that it was the duty of the defendant to interfere, then the burden of proving negligence on the part of the defendant, and ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on the plaintiff. If the jury believe, that the act of interference in the fight was unnecessary, then the burden of proving extraordinary care on the part of the defendant, or want of ordinary care on the part of the plaintiff, is on defendant.”

On this occasion, the jury returned a verdict in favour of the plaintiff, while the executrix sought to challenge the finding in the Massachusetts Supreme Court, on the insistence that the injury was accidental and potentially unavoidable on the part of her late husband.

Here, the court relied upon Powers v. Russell, in which Shaw CJ had held that in instances:

“[W]here the party having the burden of proof gives competent and prima facie evidence of a fact, and the adverse party, instead of producing proof which would go to negative the same proposition of fact, proposes to show another and a distinct proposition which avoids the effect of it, there the burden of proof shifts, and rests upon the party proposing to show the latter fact.”

Powers v. Russell

Which indicated that unless the plaintiff could show sound reasoning why the injury arose through negligence, there was insufficient grounds for a jury to decide with confidence, thus the court was now convinced that when choosing to separate the two animals, the deceased was, by virtue of his avoiding potential harm to his dog, acting lawfully and within his rights as an owner, and so while moving backwards with his fullest attentions on the fight, it was held by the court that:

“If the act of hitting the plaintiff was unintentional, on the part of the defendant, and done in the doing of a lawful act, then the defendant was not liable, unless it was done in the want of exercise of due care adapted to the exigency of the case, and therefore such want of due care became part of the plaintiff’s case, and the burden of proof was on the plaintiff to establish it.”

Upon which, the previous verdict was dismissed and a new trial ordered on the pretence that unless irrefutable evidence could provide that the defendant had been wilfully negligent in an act of carelessness, there was simply no legal basis for recovery by the plaintiff.

MARTIN v. HERZOG

Liability for negligence arising from a breach of statute is unquestionable in terms of culpability, however when both parties have acted beyond their prescribed rights, it becomes a matter of priority in reaching summary judgment.

In dusk of August 21 1915, a husband and wife were entering a stretch of road in a wagon, that whilst doing so on a bend, was unequipped with lights, as required by s.286 of the New York Highway Laws 1909, which explained that:

“Every motor vehicle, operated or driven upon the public highways of this state…shall, during the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, display at least two lighted lamps on the front and on the rear of such vehicle…”

It was at this point that a car driven by the now appellant collided with the wagon, killing the respondent’s husband.

Upon litigation, the appellant remarked that he was unable to see the wagon, and thus had been straining to peer into the darkness at the time of the accident. In defence, the respondent argued that the inability to avoid the wagon constituted negligence under s.332(1) of the same Act, and which read:

“Whenever a person operating a motor vehicle shall meet on a public highway any other person riding or driving a horse or horses or other draft animals or any other vehicle, the person so operating such motor vehicle shall seasonably turn the same to the right of the centre of such highways so as to pass without interference.”

In the first instance, the jury upheld the respondent’s contention of negligent driving, while reducing the culpability of the deceased to that of contributory negligence when failing to upholster his vehicle with lights. The matter was then put before the Appellate Division, who reversed the judgment in favour of the appellant.

Challenged again, the New York Supreme Court examined the importance of statute, further noting that while both sections were essentially safeguarding the rights and lives of road users, the failure to install and use lights was by design, tantamount to absolute negligence, as had been found in both Massoth v. D & H Canal Co. and Cordell v. N.Y.C & H.R.R. Co.

It was also held that legislation is not something privy to the whims of a jury, regardless of how trivial such details might appear when taken in context, and that the misdirection of the trial judge was unlawful and in therefore in need of redress; hence, for these reasons the appellate court ruling was sustained and damages awarded to the appellant with costs, while the court reminded the parties that:

“A statute designed for the protection of human life is not to be brushed aside as a form of words, its commands reduced to the level of cautions, and the duty to obey attenuated into an option to conform.”

ANDERSON v. MINNEAPOLIS, ST.PAUL & SAULTE STE. MARIE RAILWAY CO.

Negligence and amendment of pleadings as material factors within a tortious claim lay central to a case between a private landowner and a corporate body, whose reliance upon subsequent natural acts failed to excuse their own actions when the plaintiff suffered serious property damage.

Having experienced one of the worst droughts in recent history, Minnesota was subject to a number of field fires, many of which originated in various locations and went on to cause significant harm to those living nearby, while on this occasion the appellants were sued for damages in the District Court for St. Louis County on grounds that one of their locomotives wheels had emitted sparks that continued to smoulder unextinguished for almost two months, before high winds caused them to flare up and later burn the appellee’s home.

During the trial, the appellants argued that there had been other fires in close proximity to the appellee’s home, and so there was insufficient evidence upon which to bring a claim, while the judge instructed the jury (i) that if the appellants’ fire had become mingled with another fire prior to reaching the appellee’s home, then they were liable for neglect, and (ii) that if it was shown that the appellants’ engine had started a second fire in the same region as those used in defence they were liable for neglect, however the jury were left hesitant and so asked:

“[W]hether the defendant would be liable if they should find that one of defendant’s engines set a fire west of Kettle River, and that on October 12th this fire was of sufficient magnitude to play an important part in any consolidation of fires that may have occurred between it and other fires coming from the west and northwest, and the consolidated fires passed over plaintiff’s land and did the damage.”

To which, the court concurred before the jury awarded for the appellee, despite the appellants having ample opportunity to prove otherwise, whereupon the appellants challenged the judgment in the Minnesota Supreme Court on grounds that the appellee had altered his claim to suit the revised jury statement.

Here, the court referred to Gracz v. Anderson, in which it had held that:

“Whether an application to amend a pleading to make it conform to facts proven on the trial should, or should not, be granted, rests ordinarily in the sound discretion of the trial court.

While § 7784 of the Minnesota General Statutes of 1913 stated in relevant part that:

“Plaintiff must proceed on a definite theory and change of attitude, prejudicial to defendant, can be allowed [except where] a variance between the pleadings and proof held not of a nature to mislead the defendant.

And so, when examining the contributory nature of the fire, the court also relied upon Bibb Broom Corp. Co. v. Atchison T. & S. F. Ry. Co., in which it had also held that:

“[I]f damage is caused by the concurrent force of defendant’s neglect and some other cause for which he is not responsible, including an act of God, he is nevertheless liable if his negligence is one of the proximate causes of the injury complained of, even though, under the particular circumstances,he was not bound to anticipate the interference of the intervening force which concurred with his own.”

While further noting how in Krippner v. Biebl the court had also held that:

“If the defendant exercised proper care in extinguishing the fire on the evening of the day it had been started, and did actually extinguish it, he is not liable; but if he was negligent in the first instance, in the setting and care of the fire, no amount of care or diligence afterwards exercised will exonerate him from liability.”

Hence, the court upheld the trial court judgment, while reasoning that regardless of the change in jury instruction and the contention that natural occurrences rendered the appellants exempt from negligence, there was simply no standing for such an argument under Minnesota law, before reminding the parties that:

“If the amendment to a complaint does not introduce an entirely new cause of action, but merely changes the statement of the manner in which the injury was inflicted, it is ordinarily permissible.”

BARRETT v MINISTRY OF DEFENCE

Self-intoxication when subject to unenforced regulatory powers, while seemingly harmless in the early stages, becomes less a voluntary act than an inevitability when boredom and recklessness result in a fatality. Sadly on this occasion, the celebratory rituals of a naval base exposed a regime based upon irresponsibility rather than organised discipline.

In litigation by writ during early 1990, the widow of a naval airman sought damages for negligence arising from a breach of duty of care through the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and the Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1934, after her late husband was found dead in his bunk.

In late January 1988, the deceased was celebrating his 30th birthday and pending promotion while stationed at the Barduffos Royal Naval Air Station, Norway, a base known for its leniency towards off-duty drinking, despite recognised preventative guidelines and clear definitions as per section 28 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957, which read:

“A person is drunk . . . if owing to the influence of alcohol or any drug, whether alone or in combination with any other circumstances, he is unfit to be entrusted with his duty or with any duty which he might be called upon to perform, or behaves in a disorderly manner or in a manner likely to bring discredit on Her Majesty’s service.”

Naval Discipline Act 1957

While article 810 of the Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy 1967 also explained how:

“It is the particular duty of all officers, fleet chief petty officers, chief petty officers, petty officers and leading ratings actively to discourage drunkenness, overindulgence in alcohol and drug abuse by naval personnel both on board and ashore. Should a man appear to be suffering from any of these abuses they are immediately to take appropriate action to prevent any likely breaches of discipline, possible injury or fatality, including medical assistance if it is available.”

On the night before his death, the deceased had consumed enough alcohol to lapse into unconsciousness shortly before midnight; after which, he was taken to his room and left in the recovery position.

It was during the following three hours that he was visited only three times; after which, he had vomited and asphyxiated through inhalation of the vomitus. Within the base codes of conduct, was guidance for dealing with inebriated servicemen, within which it read:

“(i) Keep the offender out of distance of officers or senior ratings so that he cannot commit himself by striking or by insubordination. Avoid altercation, (ii) Have him examined by the duty M.O. (iii) Should he be in a state of collapse, make sure he does not lie on his back so that he can suffocate if he vomits. See that he is sighted every few minutes.”

In the first hearing, the judge ruled that the appellants had, by virtue of their inability to enforce the regulations and codes of conduct, failed to provide a sufficient duty of care when managing the deceased and awarded damages of around £214,000, with a one-third reduction for the contributory negligence through over-consumption of alcohol.

Presented to the Court of Appeal on grounds of erring in law when comparing the Queen’s Regulations with the Highway Code and thereby over-extending the liability of the Ministry when passing judgment, the Court reexamined the facts, along with the threshold of culpability.

Here, it held that while the appellants had failed to uphold a reasonable standard of care, the choice to drink excessively was undoubtedly the primary cause of death; at which point, the Court reversed the proportion of liability in favour of the appellants thus reducing the damages to roughly £71,000, while the court reminded the parties that:

“To dilute self-responsibility and to blame one adult for another’s lack of self-control is neither just nor reasonable and in the development of the law of negligence an increment too far.”

BARNETT v CHELSEA AND KENSINGTON MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE

Professional negligence and the balance of probabilities were, at the time of this hearing, key ingredients to the maxim ‘novus actus interveniens’, which is used to determine whether the actions (or inactions) of a third party can be held liable for the cause of death, even when the primary act or event was of such magnitude that nothing could have reasonably prevented a fatality.

On New Year’s eve of 1965, three college watchmen were self-admitted to the casualty ward of St. Stephen’s Hospital, London, complaining of sickness and associated vomiting. Ironically, one of the men had been admitted only hours earlier, after suffering a blow to the skull by an unknown campus intruder.

Upon their arrival, the duty nurse listened to their complaints, before communicating them by telephone to the medical casualty officer, who was himself at home suffering with a sickness and associated vomiting.

Having heard their symptoms, the advice given was that they should return home and wait until feeling better, aside from the victim of the violent attack, who was asked to remain in the ward until his x-ray, which was due later next morning.

Angry that no immediate solutions were offered, the three men left and returned to their place of work. Shortly after arrival at the college, the injured watchman was forced to lay down, where he remained until the college doctor arrived at 1pm on New Year’s day; at which point, his condition had significantly deteriorated; and so, when arriving at hospital at 2pm he was pronounced dead.

Upon examination, it was revealed that for reasons unknown, the flask of tea shared by the men at 5am that morning, was contaminated with arsenic, which while not enough to kill all three, was present enough to prove fatal to one.

It was for this reason that his widow sought damages from the defendants, on grounds that the inability of the hospital staff to both diagnose and treat her late husband, was in fact the primary cause of his death, and that a liability for negligence was clear through an inherent duty of care.

At the trial, the criteria for negligence under a duty of care was first addressed through the words of Denning J in Cassidy v Ministry of Health, when he explained:

“In my opinion authorities who run a hospital, be they local authorities, government boards, or any other corporation, are in law under the self-same duty as the humblest doctor; whenever they accept a patient for treatment, they must use reasonable care and skill to cure him of his ailment…and if their staff are negligent in giving the treatment, they are just as liable for that negligence as is anyone else who employs others to do his duties for him.”

Cassidy v Ministry of Health

While through p.183 of ‘Winfield on Torts’ 7th ed (1963) the court was reminded that:

“Where anyone is engaged in a transaction in which he holds himself out as having professional skill, the law expects him to show the average amount of competence associated with the proper discharge of the duties of that profession, trade or calling, and if he falls short of that and injures someone in consequence, he is not behaving reasonably.”

A principle that was furthered by the witness testimony of Dr. Stanley Lockett, who enthused:

“In my view, the duty of a casualty officer is in general to see and examine all patients who come to the casualty department of the hospital.”

However, upon close analysis of the timeline between the deceased’s complaints and the event of his death, it was confirmed that despite hypothetically following all the procedural requirements when treating patients, the hospital would not have been able to administer the named antidote for arsenic poisoning (B.A.L), or apply an intravenous drip any earlier than around 12pm New Year’s Day.

Therefore, despite the obvious anguish of the claimant and her anger over her husband’s untimely death, the defendants could not be held legally liable for negligence, despite failing under their requisite duty of care, while reminding the parties that:

“Without doubt the casualty officer should have seen and examined the deceased. His failure to do either cannot be described as an excusable error as has been submitted. It was negligence.”

ABOUZAID v MOTHERCARE LTD

Manufacturer negligence and the powers of consumer statute are both central to a claim for damages, when a leading retailer is held liable for a loss of earnings through serious physical injury.

In 1990, the respondent’s eye was struck by an elasticated strap forming part of a foot warmer product known as ‘Cosytoes’, which was manufactured under the store’s own brand range.

The extent of the damage was unknown at the time; however, over the period that followed, the respondent was diagnosed with shallow temporal half-detachment of the retina; which in turn, led to virtual blindness and total lack of central vision.

Some ten years later, the respondent sought damages under negligence, and through the powers afforded them under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. In defence, the appellants relied upon the investigative report of a highly qualified consultant engineer, whose notes confirmed:

“I conclude that in 1990 no manufacturer of child care products could reasonably have been expected to have recognised that elastic attachment straps for a cosytoes could pose a hazard to the eyes of children or adults, since the potential risk had not at that time been recognised even by experts in the safety of such childcare products.”

However, the engineer also stressed that:

“I found that for me it was quite easy to fasten the straps correctly from behind the seat unit. Attempting this from the front of the seat was more difficult, because it was not possible to see the fastening. It also required putting my head close to the seat in order for my arms to reach round behind it. I noticed that the elastic did have a tendency to pull the fastener through my fingers, and it could easily have slipped.”

Contrastingly, when transposing the requirements of the 1987 Act, Parliament was obliged to observe the terms of Directive 85/374/EEC in which the preamble outlined:

“Whereas, to protect the physical well-being and property of the consumer, the defectiveness of the product should be determined by reference not to its fitness for use but to the lack of the safety which the public at large is entitled to expect; whereas the safety is assessed by excluding any misuse of the product not reasonable under the circumstances…

[W]hereas a fair apportionment of risk between the injured person and the producer implies that the producer should be able to free himself from liability if he furnishes proof as to the existence of certain exonerating circumstances…”

In the first hearing, the judge found in favour of the respondent on grounds that embraced both manufacturer negligence and the presence of a defect, as described in section 2(1) of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which reads:

“(1) Subject to the following provisions of this section, there is a defect in a product for the purposes of this Part if the safety of the product is not such as persons generally are entitled to expect; and for those purposes safety, in relation to a product, shall include safety with respect to products comprised in that product and safety in the context of risks of damage to property, as well as in the context of risks of death or personal injury.”

Consumer Protection Act 1987

Upon appeal, the Court reexamined the previous decision, and revisited the argument that what was evidentially unsafe in 2000 was not deemed harmful in 1990, in light of there being no recorded incidents of that nature upon which to rely at the time.

With reference again to the consultant engineer’s notes, the Court emphasised how he had also stated:

“I conclude that I should have to advise anyone manufacturing such a cosytoes today that the product would have a safety defect unless the potential risk of injury (to the eyes of a child in the pushchair or the person fitting it) was either eliminated by design or that consumers were warned of the possible risks and how to avoid them. Such advice to consumers would need to include instructions for fitting the cosytoes that avoided the obvious difficulties that Mr Abouzaid and his mother were having prior to the accident.”

And that despite a lack of recorded industry data with which to determine the safety of the product, there was little to explain how consumer awareness had remained static over the preceding decade, with particular reference drawn again to section 5.1.2 of his report, which itself remarked:

“[T]he level of safety that consumers can reasonably expect is not necessarily a constant, but will rise over time in small steps, if the state of industry knowledge of hazards and their prevention improves.”

It was for these reasons that the Court agreed with the essence of the earlier judge’s findings, and that the level of damages awarded were an accurate representation of the loss suffered through such a simple error in quality control, user protection and legal foreseeability.

“[T]he test for foreseeability of harm is the individual Defendant manufacturer’s standard of knowledge. This in turn is to be derived from the actual or constructive knowledge which a reasonable and prudent Defendant manufacturer would have if he had consulted such literature or made such enquiries as were reasonably to be expected of him.”

R v CHESHIRE

Novus actus interveniens’ or breaking the chain of causation, is a maxim often relied upon in criminal cases; however, while the principle itself is simple enough, the facts required to establish it prove far from clear.

In a case involving the potentially fatal shooting of an unwitting victim, the surgical aftercare provided, became subject to the scrutiny of the courts when death followed soon afterwards.

In late 1987, the deceased was party to an argument with the now appellant, which resulted in three shots being fired from a concealed handgun.

The first bullet was fired in the air above them, while the second and third entered the victim’s upper thigh and abdomen, shortly before the appellant fled from the scene.

Having been rushed to hospital, the surgeons cleaned up both wounds, while reconnecting the thigh bone and undertaking an extensive bowel resection in order to prevent further complications.

In the weeks following his admission, the deceased complained of breathing difficulties, at which point a tracheotomy was performed, after a simple ventilating machine had failed to properly address the problem.

Around a month later his condition deteriorated, and so investigative measures were taken to inspect the stomach wound, while the deceased began to suffer with vomitous discharge and chest infections, later resulting in fluid permeation of the lungs.

It was then, after numerous complaints and several visits by the consultant general surgeon, surgical registrar, orthopaedic registrar and finally the house surgeon, that his breathing pattern was recognised as ‘stridor’, a disturbing vibration typically associated with an obstruction of the larynx or windpipe.

Unfortunately, despite the intervention of a medical registrar and urgent cardiac massage, the deceased died as a result of mucus blockage of the windpipe resulting from excessive tracheotomy scarring; upon which, the resident pathologist concluded that:

“I give as the cause of death cardio-respiratory arrest due to gunshot wounds of the abdomen and leg.”

At the trial, the judge directed the jury to establish a conviction of recklessness on the part of the hospital, which if proven, would support the breaking of the chain of causation on grounds that the hospital had failed to properly identify the actual cause of death; and that in doing so, the appellant’s actions were now secondary to the death of the victim.

After a degree of jury deliberation, a verdict was passed in favour of the hospital, before the appellant challenged the judgment under section 23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968.

Presented to the Court of Appeal, consideration was given to the principle of recklessness and gross negligence, while particular reference was made to the words of Goff LJ in R v Pagett, who said:

“Even where it is necessary to direct the jury’s minds to the question of causation, it is usually enough to direct them simply that in law the accused’s act need not be the sole cause, or even the main cause, of the victim’s death, it being enough that his act contributed significantly to that result…nevertheless the intervention of a third person may be regarded as the sole cause of the victim’s death, thereby relieving the accused of criminal responsibility.”

R v Pagett

However, in R v Smith it was also argued by Parker CJ that:

“It seems to the court that if at the time of death the original wound is still an operating cause and a substantial cause, then the death can properly be said to be the result of the wound, albeit that some other cause of death is also operating. Only if it can be said that the original wounding is merely the setting in which another cause operates can it be said that the death does not result from the wound. Putting it in another way, only if the second cause is so overwhelming as to make the original wound merely part of the history can it be said that the death does not flow from the wound.”

R v Smith

Before Lane CJ later reiterated in R v Malcherek that:

“[T]he fact that the victim has died, despite or because of medical treatment for the initial injury given by careful and skilled medical practitioners, will not exonerate the original assailant from responsibility for the death.”

R v Malcherek

With careful appreciation of the medical evidence, along with reasoned accommodation of the high threshold of surgical margins of error, the Court held that despite the alleged negligence of the hospital staff, there was simply insufficient evidence to uphold the application of ‘novus actus interveniens’.

And that even with the best medical team on hand to treat the deceased, the fundamental cause of death preceding the complication was, and remained, the shooting by the appellant; and so, on those grounds the appeal was dismissed and the original murder charge upheld, while the Court reminded the parties that:

“Whilst medical treatment unsuccessfully given to prevent the death of a victim with the care and skill of a competent medical practitioner will not amount to an intervening cause, it does not follow that treatment which falls below that standard of care and skill will amount to such a cause.”

SCRIVEN BROS & CO. v HINDLEY & CO.

Negligence and mistake, are two elements of contract law which conflict as between vendor and purchaser, particularly when the former is unreasonably applied to the buyer.

In this very brief but notable case, the issue in hand turns upon the overpayment for a product at auction.

Typical of the period, many agricultural products were imported for domestic use as the temperate weather of foreign countries provided for larger tonnage and lower prices; and so, on this occasion the subject matter was Russian industrial grade hemp, which while grown widely across the UK, remained their largest export at the time, and was a much sought after commodity.

Contrastingly, tow is a by-product of hemp, and thus sold at a much lower price, often for use as upholstery stuffing and other secondary purposes.

However, when a dockside auctioneer put out large bales of both hemp and tow, the samples shown to potential bidders were easily confusable.

To make matters worse, the two consignments were given similar lot names, therefore the possibility of bidding in error was high.

On this occasion, the purchaser had recruited a manager to bid on his behalf; at which point, he had placed similar bids on both items on the assumption that he was buying hemp.

To his further detriment, the auction programmes failed to distinguish the lots; and so, only those who had the foresight to inspect them beforehand were spared the embarrassment of overpaying for items of lower market value.

When the purchaser discovered his managers error, he sued the auctioneers for misrepresentation upon the principle of ‘ad idem’ (which is parties not in agreement to the nature of a contract); who themselves counter-sued for negligence on the part of the manager.

In the original trial, it was found that there could be no evidence of a contract as per the principle of disagreement, and that no grounds of negligence existed in the absence of any duty of care by the manager to examine the lots prior to bidding.

When brought before the Court of the Kings Bench, it became apparent despite a number of opposing facts, that the auctioneers had been recent victims of fraud, thus were simply looking to pass on the loss to another unsuspecting buyer.

And so, irrespective of any argument that the onus of inspection fell to the buyer’s representative, it was found that a contract could not be found to exist where no agreement had been settled between the vendor and the purchaser

Hence, the court awarded for the defendants, while reminding the parties that:

“A buyer when he examines a sample does so for his own benefit and not in the discharge of any duty to the seller.”

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