I have been thinking about the duty of care today – partly because I’m now teaching the Law of Delict (or Tort) to several groups of students and, partly, because of a story which has just been reported in the British media.
The story in question involved the tragic death of 15 year old Nora Anne Quoirin at a holiday resort in Malaysia in 2019. Nora, who had learning difficulties, wandered away from her parents’ accommodation at the resort and her body was found 10 days later in the jungle.
Nora’s parents are now suing the resort for breach of its duty of care to their daughter. They are alleging that the resort owners were negligent in that they failed to take basic safety measures which contributed to their daughter’s death.
Normally, 15 year olds would be expected to appreciate that certain behaviours or conduct on their part could put themselves in harm’s way, but Nora’s parents are arguing that she was particularly vulnerable because of health issues that she had suffered from early childhood. In other words, Nora may not have appreciated the full extent of the risk that she was undertaking when she left her room on that fateful evening.
A link to the story as reported in The Guardian can be found below:
Negligence is harm caused unintentionally and is, by far and away, the most likely type of delictual action that the Scottish courts will have to deal with.
Negligence claims arise because the defender owes what is known as a duty of care to the pursuer and, unfortunately, a breach of this duty occurs and, as a result, the defender suffers loss, injury or damage.
The leading case for negligence claims is Donoghue v Stevenson  UKHL 100 – or the snail in the opaque ginger beer bottle as many generations of law students remember it.
Delicts which are committed unintentionally by the defender resulting in loss, injury or damage to the pursuer are the most common type of civil wrong. In these situations, the defender is said to have been negligent or careless. The law, therefore, imposes a duty on each of us not to cause harm to others. Each of us has interests which the law protects, for example, the right to personal security and the right to enjoy a good reputation.
Donoghue v Stevenson  was not the first case of its kind to be brought before the Scottish courts. That particular honour must go to Mullen v A G Barr & Co Ltd  SC 461 where the pursuer attempted to bring a compensation claim in a situation where dead mice were found in ginger beer bottles by the Mullen siblings. Unfortunately, for the Mullen children, the Court of Session dismissed their claim that there was no legal relationship i.e. between them and the ginger beer manufacturer. The importance of the Donoghue decision was that it would overrule the limitations imposed by Mullen and it would establish that a duty of care could arise between the manufacturer (Stevenson) and the ultimate consumer (Mrs Donoghue).
In order to succeed when bringing a negligence claim before the courts, the pursuer must show that the defender owes a duty of care, that the defender was in a position to cause harm and that the defender failed to prevent this foreseeable kind of harm from occurring. Additionally, the pursuer must show that the defender’s breach of duty was the effective (or proximate) cause of the loss or harm suffered by her.
Lord Atkin who gave the leading speech in Donoghue v Stevenson  went to great pains to stress a concept which has since become known as the neighbourhood principle:
The rule that you are to love your neighbour becomes, in law, you must not injure your neighbour; and the lawyer’s question, ‘who is my neighbour?’ receives a restricted reply, ‘you must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which you can reasonably foresee would be likely to injure your neighbour’. Who then, in law, is my neighbour? The answer seems to be persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in my contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called into question.
The defender does not owe a duty of care to the whole wide world, but only to those individuals whom the defender, if he were a reasonable person, would realise that his actions might cause them to suffer loss, injury or damage. Basically, the defender should have realised that his actions or failure to act will result in certain negative consequences being suffered by the pursuer.
This was a point forcefully driven home in the famous decision of Bourhill v Young  AC 92, where it was held that a deceased motorcyclist (John Young) owed absolutely no duty of care to a bystander (Mrs Bourhill) who came up Edinburgh’s Colinton Road to view the aftermath of the accident which had been caused by the motorcyclist’s dangerous behaviour. The bystander was not within the contemplation of the motorcyclist. Put simply, she was not someone whom he should have realised might be endangered by his dangerous and negligent actions. In fact, she was in no danger at all from John Young’s actions (until she placed herself in danger by going up the road to gaze upon the aftermath of the accident).
Similarly, this was a point also raised in the more recent case of Weddle v Glasgow City Council  SC EDIN 42 where the pursuer’s claim for damages for psychiatric injuries was dismissed by the All Scotland Sheriff Personal Injury Court. Danielle Weddle was not someone that the driver of the vehicle (which caused death and destruction in Glasgow City Centre in December 2014) should have contemplated might be harmed by his breach of duty i.e. driving the City Council’s bin lorry whilst medically unfit to do so.
Related Blog Article:
In Donoghue v Stevenson , Lord Atkin deliberately drew upon the Christian parable of the Good Samaritan when he formulated the neighbourhood principle. For those unfamiliar with the parable, the Jewish man (who had been attacked and robbed by brigands and left for dead on the road to Jericho) was rescued by a Samaritan (an individual who belonged to a group detested by the Jews for their failure to adhere to the more rigorous rules of Judaism). Before the Samaritan came down the road, a Priest and a Levite stumbled upon the aftermath of the robbery, both decided not to intervene and passed by on the other side of the road.
Lord Diplock, sitting in the House of Lords, famously stated in Dorset Yacht Co. Ltd v Home Office  UKHL 2 that despite the questionable morality of their decision not to help the injured man, the Priest and the Levite would have incurred absolutely no civil liability in English law for their actions and, indeed, in Scotland the position would have been exactly the same.
Lord Atkin’s statement is initially misleading in that he deliberately subverted the language of the Christian Gospels by referring to your neighbour. When Jesus Christ was asked the question by the lawyer (in Luke’s Gospel where the Parable of the Good Samaritan is to be found): ‘Lord, who is my neighbour?’ the fairly daunting reply that the lawyer received is that ‘Everyone is your neighbour’.
To lawyers, however, the above question receives a much more restricted answer. The defender does not owe a duty of care to the whole wide world, but only to those individuals whom the defender, if s/he were a reasonable person, would realise that their actions might cause others to suffer loss, injury or damage. Basically, the defender should have realised that their actions or failure to act will result in certain negative consequences being suffered by the victim.
It will be interesting to see how the legal action brought by Nora Quoirin’s parents against the owners of the Malaysian holiday resort progresses.
Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 January 2020