Crossley v Rawlinson – Case Summary

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07/03/18 Cases Reference this In-house law team

Jurisdiction(s): United Kingdom

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Crossley v Rawlinson [1981] 1 WLR 369

FORESEEABILITY OF HARM – DUTY OF CARE – REMOTENESS

Facts

The defendant, a lorry driver, stopped his vehicle when the tarpaulin covering his load caught fire. The fire was accepted to be a consequence of the defendant’s negligence in fitting the tarpaulin. A nearby breakdown patrol worker ran to assist in putting out the blaze, but tripped in a pothole and fell. He sought to recover damages from the driver for his injuries, arguing that if it were not for the defendant’s negligence which had caused the fire, he would not have been hurt.

Issue

The issue was whether the patrol worker’s injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s negligence, and by extension whether they fell within the defendant’s duty of care. 

Held

The court concluded that although it was foreseeable that someone might come to help extinguish the fire and might be injured in the course of doing so, it was not foreseeable that someone would be injured on the way to provide this assistance. Therefore, the plaintiff’s injuries fell outside the scope of the defendant’s duty of care.

However, this decision has been criticised as going against the general principle established in Hughes v Lord Advocate [1963] AC 837 that if there is foreseeability of the risk of some harm, this is sufficient to establish liability in negligence even if the harm which in fact materialises has come about in a different way or is more severe than that which was foreseeable.

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