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Mullin v Richards [1998] 1 WLR 1304

NEGLIGENCE – BREACH OF DUTY - CHILDREN

Facts

The defendant was a 15-year-old girl who play-fought with rulers with another 15-year-old girl (the claimant). In the course of the game, the defendant’s ruler snapped, causing a splinter to hit the claimant in the eye, blinding her. The claimant sued the defendant in the tort of negligence for her injuries.

Issue

Establishing the tort of negligence involves establishing that the defendant owed the claimant a duty of care, which they breached in a manner which caused the claimant recoverable harm. To establish a breach of any duty owed, the claimant must establish that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position. Normally, the reasonable person is an objective standard which does not incorporate the particular characteristics of the defendants (such as their clumsy nature). The case law has established some exceptions to this rule, however.

The issue in this case was whether the defendant’s age could be taken into account when determining how the reasonable person would have acted in her situation.

Held

The Court of Appeal held that the defendant was not in breach of the duty of care she owed to the claimant.

This case established the principle that the defendant’s identity as a child is relevant to the standard of care: a child is only to be held to the standard of a reasonable child of the same age, and not to the standard of a reasonable adult.

In this case, a reasonable 15-year-old would not have foreseen any injury arising from the pair’s game, and so would not have taken any additional steps to safeguard the claimant from harm. Accordingly, the defendant acted as a reasonable child would, and was not in breach.


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