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R v Stone and Dobinson [1977] 1 QB 354

OMISSION – NEGLIGENCE – DUTY OF CARE

Facts

The defendants, S and D, were a couple who took in the victim, S’s sister, as a lodger. S had severe disabilities, being partially deaf and blind. D had learning difficulties.  Whilst staying with the defendants, the victim became unable to care for herself, having long struggled with mental health issues and obsession about her weight. D made some efforts to care for her, bringing her food and washing her with the held of a neighbour. However, her attempts were not sustained and inadequate, and the victim passed away. The defendants were charged with manslaughter.

Issue

The issue was the jury were entitled to find that the defendants owed a duty of care to the victim. Additionally, the definition of ‘gross negligence’ for the purpose of a manslaughter conviction was in issue.

Held

The jury were entitled to find that a duty of care was owed on the grounds that the victim was not only a lodger in the home of the defendants but also had closer ties to each. In Stone’s case, a duty of care was owed on the basis that she was a blood relative, whilst Dobinson had undertaken a duty of care by washing her and providing food.

Regarding the issue of negligence, the Court of Appeal held that in order to ground a conviction for manslaughter the defendants must have been ‘grossly negligent’ in respect of their breach of duty. Geoffrey Lane LJ suggested that such gross negligence required the defendants to have been either ‘indifferent’ to the risk of injury, or have foreseen the risk and run it nevertheless.

The conviction of gross negligence manslaughter was upheld.


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