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Law Notes Tort Law Notes

Causation And Remoteness Notes

Updated Causation And Remoteness Notes

Tort Law Notes

Tort Law

Approximately 1070 pages

Tort Law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambridge. These notes cover all the LLB tort law cases and so are perfect for anyone doing an LLB in the UK or a great supplement for those doing LLBs abroad, whether that be in Ireland, Hong Kong or Malaysia (University of London).

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Causation and remoteness in negligence

General rule: C must prove on the balance of probabilities that the damage for which C seeks a remedy was caused by D’s negligence.

2 elements to causation: factual causation (‘but-for’ test or D’s negligence ‘materially contributed’) and legal causation (no breaks in the chain of causation).

NB: most authorities and textbooks break down the causation requirement into (i) causation, (ii) remoteness. ‘Scope of duty’ or ‘scope of responsibility’ can be included in the former requirement.


Hunter v Canary Wharf (1996, UKHL) – physical damage = a physical change in the land which makes it less useful (a nuisance case).

Rothwell v Chemical & Insulating Co (2007, UKHL)

  • FACTS: C’s employer D exposed C to asbestos; C developed symptomless pleural plaques which were themselves harmless, but signalled the presence of asbestos fibres in the lungs which might in turn cause fatal diseases; C resultingly developed clinical depression

  • The symptomless plaques were not actionable damage. “The important point was that, save in the most exceptional case, the plaques would never cause any symptoms, did not increase the susceptibility of C to other diseases or shorten their expectation of life. They had no effect upon their health at all. Neither the risk of future disease nor anxiety about the possibility of that risk materialising amounted to damage for the purpose of creating a cause of action.”

Dryden v Johnson Matthey (2018, UKSC) – ‘personal injury’ = a physical change making the sufferer appreciably worse off (than he would have been had D not acted negligently) in terms of his health or capability to enjoy ordinary life (even if that change was hidden and symptomless).

Gemma Turton, ‘Risk and the damage requirement in negligence liability’ (2011) 35 Legal Studies 75

  • Risk cannot coherently be recognised as damage.

  • “In this paper, it will be argued that under the Barker apportionment approach, the gist of the negligence action is still the physical harm rather than the risk of that harm. Moreover, in the absence of physical harm, pure risk cannot be regarded as damage for the purposes of the negligence inquiry. The paper examines the notion of risk and distinguishes it from the related concept of probability. It will be argued that risk, properly understood, is a forward-looking concept that is incompatible with the role in which it is cast by Lord Hoffmann in the backward-looking causation inquiry. This paper will also question the moral significance of risk as damage, and explore the difficulties of explaining why risk might be considered deserving of compensation. It will be argued that the primary obstacle to accepting risk as damage in negligence is that risk is already addressed under the heading of breach of duty. If risk were to be recognised as actionable damage, the result would therefore be to subsume the damage requirement into the breach inquiry, effectively transforming negligence liability from a system of corrective justice to a punitive system focused solely on the defendant’s wrongdoing in isolation.”

  • Fairchild – uncertainty about how asbestos caused mesothelioma material contribution to risk was sufficient for causation; based on a policy concern to avoid unfairness to innocent claimants facing an evidentiary gap.

  • Barker v Corus – B had also exposed himself to asbestos during a period of self-employment; UKHL accepted C’s argument that while Fairchild applied, liability for the mesothelioma should be apportioned rather than being joint and several (calculated according to the individual’s contribution to the total risk of mesothelioma) thus, Barker ruled for an apportionment approach to liability (a.k.a. aliquot liability), contrasted to Fairchild’s joint and several liability – this was to “smooth the roughness” of the outcome under Fairchild where a defendant who cannot even be proved to be a but-for cause of the claimant’s injury is to face joint and several liability (as opposed to just several). This supposedly reached a fair balance between the interests of innocent claimants and potentially ‘innocent’ defendants (in that their negligence may not have caused any damage).

    • Lord Hoffmann (leading judgment) … reasoned that if it is only possible to prove that D’s negligence materially contributed to the risk of mesothelioma, then it is appropriate to regard the risk, rather than the mesothelioma, as forming the gist of the negligence action”. He reasoned that it does not matter that mesothelioma is indivisible, since “[c]hances are infinitely divisible and different people can be separately responsible to a greater or lesser degree for the chances of an event happening” since risk is divisible damage, it attracts several liability, and thus an apportionment approach. Lord Hoffmann criticised the CoA’s approach (joint and several liability) because it supposed that D’s breach of duty, which caused one phenomenon (increase in risk of harm), could result in him being liable for the whole of the ultimate injury – a whole other phenomenon.

      • Approved in Lord Phillips’ dissenting judgment in Durham v BAI

        • BUT the majority of the UKSC in Durham v BAI disagreed and held that the actionable damage was the mesothelioma. UKHL in Rothwell held that, in the absence of mesothelioma materialising, the risk of mesothelioma is not actionable damage.

    • Baroness Hale instead clearly stated that the damage forming the gist of the action was the mesothelioma.

  • Criticisms relating to the nature of the negligence inquiry:

    • Lord Hoffmann’s apportionment-based approach ostensibly appears to chime with negligence as a corrective-justice based system of liability, but on closer inspection this is not true. Two reasons:

      • AUTHORITY: “First, the continued insistence that the claimant must have developed mesothelioma [e.g. in Durham v BAI and Rothwell] undermines the claim that the gist has been changed to the risk of mesothelioma. In other words,...

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