Jobling v Associated Dairies Ltd [1982] AC 794

Eggshell Skull Rule – Negligence – Law of Tort – Causation – Loss of Earnings

Facts

The complainant was a butcher at Associated Dairies Ltd and he had slipped on the floor and suffered a slipped disc while at work, due to his employer’s negligence. As a result of his injuries, he was limited to carrying out light work, which saw his earnings reduced by 50 per cent of what they were prior to the accident. Four years later and before the trial, Mr Jobling had been diagnosed with a pre-existing spinal disease, which was not a result of the accident. It would eventually disable him entirely and he would be unable to work.

Issues

The lower courts applied Baker v Willoughby and the complainant was awarded damages beyond the diagnosis of the condition. The employer’s appealed against this decision. The issue was one of causation and whether his pre-existing spinal disease should be taken into account for assessing work-related damages. The appeal was based on whether Mr Jobling should receive loss of earnings for the partial incapacity and the future or only for the four years of work.

Held

It was held that the employer would only be liable for damages and partial loss of earnings for the four years Mr Jobling was employed. The court was critical and did not follow the decision in Baker v Willoughby; this was called an exception to the normal test of causation. His pre-existing spinal condition must be considered and all factors taken into account, in order for the court not to award excessive compensation. This was a case of the eggshell skull rule and an example of a ‘vicissitude of life’; it was relevant that the illness would cause full disability.