A more recent version of these Breach Of Duty notes – written by Oxford students – is available here.
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2. BREACH OF DUTY Two questions:
? Question of law: what was the appropriate standard of care? How ought D have behaved in the circumstances?
? Question of fact: Did D reach that standard?
What was the appropriate standard of care?
The standard of care is that of the reasonable man which is construed objectively. Clear from:
? Nettleship : learner driver crashed and injured her instructor. HL: the standard of care owned by a learner driver is the same objective standard owed by every driver. This is so regardless of the learner's inexperience or the instructor's knowledge of that experience. However, in some cases, the objective standard will be modified:
1. Children: the test is what degree of care and foresight can reasonably be expected of a child of D's age
? Mullin v Richards : C, 15, was injured at school while 'fencing' with D using rulers. C lost her sight in one eye. Hutchinson LJ: the standard is objective, but the question is whether an "ordinarily prudent and reasonable 15-year old schoolgirl in D's situation would have realised as much." On the evidence the risk would not have been obvious to D, so she did fall below the standard of care required. Hutchinson accepts that age and experience are relevant factors in varying the standard of care, but questions whether a child's intelligence can be taken into account.
2. Illness: the extent to which D can be responsible for actions influenced by his physical illness, depend on the extent of his awareness and whether action can be controlled.
?????Mansfield v Weetabix : C's shop was damaged when D crashed his lorry. D, unknown to him, was in a hypoglycemic state. Leggatt LJ: D did not fall below the standard required because he did not know / could not have known of his infirmity. He would have been at fault had he known of his condition and kept driving.
3. Skill: if D is performing skilled task, the standard varies according to context / how he presents himself. The standard required is that of a reasonable person of D's profession.
? Bolam : C suffered fractures on the pelvis while undergoing electro-convulsive therapy. Bone fracture was a known, but slight risk. C claimed D (doctor) was negligent in that he did not use a muscle relaxant. McNair J: "In the case of a medical man, negligence means failure to act in accordance with the standards of reasonably competent medical men at the time ... a doctor is not guilty of negligence if he has acted in accordance with a practice accepted as proper by a responsible body of medical men skilled in that particular art." I.e. if there is an established body of opinion in support, it is reasonable. Here, D could adduce expert evidence to support the method he used, so did not fall below the standard of care required.
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