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R v Stone and Dobinson

[1977] QB 354

Case summary last updated at 13/01/2020 15:33 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case R v Stone and Dobinson

Summary of the facts: An almost deaf and blind man, of poor intelligence, lived with his mentally subnormal son and ineffectual mistress (she did not know how to use a telephone) lived together. His sister came to live with them. She was anorexic and despite the efforts of the mistress to bring her food and wash her, she died. During this time the mistress refused to tell a doctor or social worker, and if the sister had received medical attention she would have survived. 
  • 1)was there a duty of care, 2)were the defendants negligent in this duty, 3) did this negligence cause death.
  • The judge claims that a duty of care existed since the mistress had tried to wash her, feed her and got a neighbour to try getting a doctor. They were negligent in that the social worker who visited the son was never informed, while fanny’s room was in an appalling state.
  • It is true that the mistress did make minimal attempts to care for the deceased, but what is not asked is whether the appellants were actually capable of doing so. The man, as someone who was blind, deaf, stupid and who thought the appropriate way to show concern was to talk to the local pub owner rather than a social worker was clearly incapable of undertaking duties of care. The case is particularly clear for him, as he did not actually try to do anything to help his sister, and therefore did not have a duty of care, except by proxy through his mistress. His being a blood relation was irrelevant since his sister was paying to stay in his house. The mistress on the other hand did show examples of kindness, though nothing more: If I regularly give a tramp food it does not establish a duty of care. Similarly the court head-note describes her as “ineffectual” and she could not even operate a telephone. She said that she didn’t speak to anyone because “I daren’t. He is the boss down there”, referring to Mr. Stone. This shows her uselessness. Also her statement: “she is not my sister, so I left it to him” does not imply any kind of duty whatsoever.
It is tenuous whether 1) the appellants attempted a duty of care and 2) whether they were capable of doing so, had they tried. 

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