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Paris v Stepney Borough Council [1951] AC 367

TORT – NEGLIGENCE – FACTORS RELEVANT TO BREACH OF DUTY

Facts

The claimant had suffered damage to one of his eyes in war. He was employed in a garage, but was not provided safety goggles while working with dangerous equipment. As a result, he was blinded when a piece of metal hit him in his undamaged eye. The claimant sued his employer in the tort of negligence.

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.

The issue in this case was what factors were relevant to determining how the reasonable person would behave, and therefore when the defendant would be in breach of their duty of care.

In particular, the defendant argued that it was not normal practice to provide (normally-sighted) employees with safety goggles, and therefore it was under no obligation to provide them to the claimant.

Held

The defendant was in breach of its duty of care to the claimant.

The seriousness of the harm which might be caused to the claimant was relevant to how a reasonable person would behave. The court noted that the duty the defendant owed was to the particular employee (with all his known characteristics), not to a hypothetical ‘reasonable’ employee.

Because the claimant had sight only in one eye, there was a strong potential that the harm would be particular great: more so than would be inflicted on a normally-sighted person. This meant that a reasonable person would take greater steps than usual to protect him.


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