Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw [1956] AC 613

The onus and standard of proof in personal injury claims for an employer’s breach of statutory duty.

Facts

The employee of a dressing shops foundry was exposed to noxious dust from swing grinders, allegedly causing him to contract pneumoconiosis. The employer had neglected to ensure that the dust-grinders were compliant with Reg 1 of the Grinding of Metals (Miscellaneous Industries) Regulations 1925, leading to noxious dust containing minute silica particles.

Issue

In order for the employer to be liable, the statutory breach must be shown to have caused the pneumoconiosis. The first issue concerned the applicable standard of proof concerning the employer’s fault as well as to which party bears the onus of proof. The second question concerned whether the dust from the employer’s swing grinders caused the pneumoconiosis to satisfy the standard of proof.

Held

As a point of law, the House of Lords held that, in personal injury claims for breach of an employer’s statutory duty, the onus of proof lay on the injured employee to show that the the breach caused or materially contributed to the injury. This overturned previous authorities that placed the onus on the employer to show that they did not cause the injury. As to the standard of proof, the Court held that the employee must meet the ordinary standard of proof in civil actions, namely to establish on the ‘balance of probabilities’ that the breach of duty caused or materially contributed to the injury. On the facts of this case, the Court held that the Employer’s breached their statutory duties under the 1925 Regulations, and that the consequent noxious dust did in fact materially contribute to the employee’s contracting of pneumoconiosis. Thus, the employee met the onus and standard of proof required and the employer was held liable for the injury.

Word Count: 299 words.