Where there is factual causation, the claimant may still fail to win his case, as the damage suffered may be too remote. The breach of duty may have significant results, but the defendant will not be liable for everything that can be traced back to the original act. Clearly there are some farfetched results that are not foreseeable and therefore are not recoverable. Causation in Law
For example, consider the negligent driving of someone who bumped into the back of my car. There are almost infinite consequences: the car suffers very minor damage ( a broken tail light); I might miss the train; I might not get the job, the interview for which I was travelling to when the accident occurred; the reason I did not get the job was that I was late for the interview; I might then be unemployed for many months; I might have to sell my car to cover living expenses as I have little income ( being unemployed); I might then buy a cheap car that has not got modern safety features; I might crash that car and be injured, become depressed and commit suicide – all because of a minor traffic accident. The law has to draw the line and say that some events are too remote to be considered to have been caused by the negligent act.
The test is that the defendant is liable for damage only if it is the foreseeable consequence of the breach of duty. The case that this Principe stems from is Wagon Mound. In that case, the defendant spilt a quantity of oil whilst refuelling another ship. The oil spread over the water to the claimant’s wharf, which was some distance away. The claimant was carrying out repair work to a ship. This involved welding. Molten metal ( part of the welding) from the claimant’s wharf fell on floating cotton waste which smouldered and then ignited the oil on the water. The claimant’s wharf was severely damaged by fire. The defendants did not know and could not reasonably have been expected to know that the oil could be set alight when spread on water. Wagon Mound No.1 (1961)
They had made enquiries about the possibility of fire as soon as the oil was noticed and suspended welding whilst the situation was checked. They were told that it was safe to continue and took precautions to stop flammable waste falling into the water. Despite this, the fire started. The court decided that the damage by the oil was foreseeable but the damage by the fire was too remote and was not foreseeable. Wagon Mound No.1 (1961)
Remoteness of damage – the kind of damage must be reasonably foreseeable The principle here is that as long as the type of damage is foreseeable, it does not matter that the form it takes is unusual. A classic example of this is Bradford V Robinson Rentals (1967). The claimant was required by his employer to take an old van from Exeter to Bedford and collect a new one. The weather was very cold and there was advice not to travel unless it was necessary. The vans had no heater, and the windscreen kept freezing over, so Bradford had to drive with the window open. The old van’s radiator leaked and had to be topped up regularly. Bradford suffered frostbite. It was foreseeable that the would suffer some cold-related injury, so the defendants were liable for his frostbite even though that is very unusual. The reason for the claimant succeeding is that frostbite is merely an extreme form of injury from being cold.
Similarly, in Hughes V Lord Advocate (1963) the claimant succeeded. Two boys took a paraffin warning lamp down an unattended open manhole. On emerging from the hole, one of the boys knocked the lamp back into the hole, causing an explosion, and suffered sever burns. Since the risk of injury by burning was foreseeable, this extremely unlikely form of burning meant that there was factual and legal causation and the boys’ claim succeeded. This is another example of case law helping develop safety standards, as this method of warning is no longer used. Remoteness of damage – the kind of damage must be reasonably foreseeable
However, in Doughty V Turner Asbestos (1964), the claimant was burned when an asbestos lit was knocked into a vat of molten metal; the lid slid into the liquid with no noticeable effect for a few minutes. However, a chemical reaction then caused a violent eruption that scientific knowledge at the time did not expect to happen. It could be foreseen that knocking things into the liquid might cause a splash of molten metal, but this was an event of a wholly different type from that which could have been foreseen. Therefore, the claim failed as the result was not reasonably foreseeable. Remoteness of damage – the kind of damage must be reasonably foreseeable
This is similar to the concept in criminal law. A person’s liability in negligence is not extinguished or lessened because the claimant had a pre-existing condition that made the injuries worse. A case that illustrates the principle is Smith V Leech Brain (1962). In that case, the claimant suffered a very minor splash by molten metal that caused a burn on his face. The burn triggered his pre-existing cancerous condition, and the claimant developed cancer. Some minor injury at lease was foreseeable. His extreme reaction was a result of his condition and as the principle is that you take a person as you find them, the claim succeeded. Remoteness of damage – take your victim as you find him.
In Gabriel V Kirklees Metropolitan Council (2004), the claimant was six years old. He was walking past a building site owned by the local council in Huddersfield, when he was hit in the eye by mud thrown by children playing on the site. The site was not fenced at that time. It was decided that the correct way to decide whether the council were liable in negligence involved the following tests: Remoteness of damage – a recent example of how a judge should apply the principle of reasonably Foreseeability.
Whether it was reasonably foreseeable that children would go onto the construction site. Whether, whilst on the construction site, it was reasonably foreseeable that the children would play there. Whether it was reasonably foreseeable that, in playing on the site, they would throw whatever came to hand. Whether in playing with material on site it was reasonably foreseeable that they might cause injury to those passing by on the pavement,
Damage caused by the defendant's breach has two principles that equate to factual and legal causation. Factual causation is the ‘but for’ test. Legal causation in the idea of remoteness of damage, which has a test of reasonably Foreseeability. Conclusion