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Reeves v Commissioner of Metropolitan Police

[2000] 1 AC 360

Case summary last updated at 18/01/2020 16:50 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Reeves v Commissioner of Metropolitan Police

D’s husband, X, was arrested by P and known to be a suicide risk (although perfectly sane). Because the glass was missing from the spy hole, X was able to thread his shirt through it, producing a cord with which to strangle himself. D, the widow sued P. HL allowed her claim for negligence but reduced it by 50% for contributory negligence. 

Lord Hope: “Fault” within the 1945 Act is split into two limbs: “The first limb, which is referable to the defendant's conduct, comprises various acts or omissions which give rise to a liability in tort. The second limb, which is referable to the plaintiff's conduct, deals with acts or omissions which would, but for the Act, have given rise to the defence of contributory negligence. The first is directed to the basis of the defendant's liability, while the second is concerned with his defence on the ground that the damage was the result partly of the plaintiff's own negligence.”

As a general rule, a person to whom a duty of care is owed is generally under a corresponding duty to take reasonable care for his own safety which, if he intentionally breaches, he may be incapable of claiming any damages. However there are cases, as here, where the duty of care extends to taking reasonable care to prevent someone causing injury to themselves e.g. young people, the insane etc. There was no break in the chain of causation because the wrongful act (leaving a gap in the spy hole) created the opportunity for X to make a cord, of which suicide was the foreseeable consequence. See below for non fit violenti iniuria. Lord Hoffmann says that whereas it was the breach of duty of care that “caused” X’s death, X was sufficiently at “fault” within the meaning of s.4 of the act to have the award reduced by half. 

Lord Hobhouse (dissenting): X had autonomous, free, unconstrained choice. He was not mentally ill, too young, misinformed and therefore he caused his own death. See below for volenti non fit iniuria

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