In the last few months, I’ve discussed two medical negligence cases involving the NHS in Scotland. Since last week, I now have a hat trick with the decision of Lady Wise (sitting in the Court of Session) in respect of Derek Hamilton v Lanarkshire Health Board  CSOH 24.
The facts of the case are pretty straightforward:
In 2013, Mr Hamilton had been playing with his grandson when he swallowed his dental plate. Now, it may seem facetious of me to say this, but Mr Hamilton’s grievance was not directed at his grandson’s high jinks. The issue was with what happened next. He attended the local NHS hospital for treatment and he was informed that he would have to undergo surgery to have the plate removed.
Mr Hamilton duly underwent an operation where Martin Downey, an experienced surgeon, removed said plate via the patient’s oesophagus. Unfortunately, while doing so the surgeon’s actions caused a tear or a perforation in the oesophagus and Mr Hamilton’s condition worsened rapidly. Consequently, the patient spent a total of 45 days in hospital as a result of complications arising from the botched procedure.
Mr Hamilton alleged that Martin Downey, had breached his duty of care to him and that he had carried out a procedure which “all general surgeons know is a catastrophe to be avoided.”
In finding Martin Downey liable for negligence, Lady Wise bluntly observed that:
“Mr Downey departed from usual and normal practice … and acted in a manner that no ordinarily competent general surgeon with colorectal speciality exercising ordinary skill and care would have done.“
Her Ladyship went on to state that:
“I have found that, but for the taking of that easily avoidable risk, the patient’s oesophagus would have remained intact as it was the act of removing the plate that caused the perforation. The pursuer [Mr Hamilton] has therefore established both breach of duty and causation.”
Mr Hamilton will receive £195,000 (plus interest) in compensation from Lanarkshire Health Board in settlement of his claim for personal injury.
A link to Lady Wise’s decision in the matter can be found below:
As someone who works more in the civil rather than the criminal legal tradition, I tend to focus more on the outcome of obtaining damages or compensation for the victim of an industrial or work-place accident.
It’s simply a matter of horses for courses i.e. you stick to what you know or what you’re trained to do. Admittedly, most of the victims of industrial accidents that I have represented are perhaps more focused on obtaining compensation for their injuries – especially if these are life changing. Any criminal liability that the employer may have is purely incidental i.e. something of a side issue. Then again, I suppose you could say that about most civil actions where the criminality of the pursuer remains firmly in the background (think dangerous and careless driving incidents).
The victim of a work-place delict (or tort) may get some satisfaction from their employer or its officers and managers appearing in the dock at a subsequent criminal trial, but this is unlikely to be satisfying in the long term. It will not allow them to get their lives back on track or to move on; payment of compensation is perhaps a more satisfactory conclusion to things. I make that last statement fully in the knowledge that no amount of money can truly give victims back what they have lost.
Yet, every so often, I come across a story or an incident which underlines the importance of criminal law regarding industrial or work-place accidents.
In 2015, one such incident occurred onboard Aquarius, a fishing trawler which operated out of the North East Scottish fishing port of Banff. Serious failings in the operation of the vessel led to the death of a crewman. The victim, 47 year old, Annang Neurtey from Ghana, was swept overboard: his body has never been recovered – adding immensely to the grief of his family.
Anyone who has read Sebastian Junger’s 1997 novel, The Perfect Storm (or viewed the film adaptation of 2000) will be readily familiar with the dangers that fishing folk face at sea. That said, the tragedy which befell Annang Neurtey was entirely avoidable. If the skipper of the Aquarius had properly supervised the crew and followed basic safety procedures, the accident would not have occurred.
Following Mr Neurtey’s death, MB Aquarius Ltd of Buckie, the company which owned and operated the vessel, was investigated by Police Scotland and the Marine and Coastguard Agency. The conclusions reached by investigators were that basic risk assessments had not been properly carried out and that the employer had failed to put a safe system of working in place.
At a subsequent criminal prosecution against Mr Neurtey’s employer for health and safety breaches at Aberdeen Sheriff Court, the company pleaded guilty to breaches of marine safety laws, namely, Regulation 5(1) of the Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Health and Safety at Work) Regulations 1997 and Sections 85 and 86 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
A fine of £50,000 was imposed on the employer – it would have been £75,000 had an early plea of guilty not been entered by the company.
Mr Neurtey’s family will doubtless be contemplating a civil action for recovery of damages – unless of course his employer does the decent thing and quickly settles such a claim.
A link to the Marine and Coastguard Agency’s Report of its findings concerning Mr Neurtey’s death can be found below:
Have concerns about health and safety gone mad? The former British Prime Minister, David Cameron certainly thought so when his Coalition Government (2010-15) introduced the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 (in particular, Section 69 of the said legislation) which removed the right to bring a civil claim for breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
It does not mean that employees can no longer bring a civil claim if an employer breaches its duty of care, but significantly claimants will no longer benefit from the presumption of strict liability previously imposed on organisations. Since this reform, it will be essential for claimants to prove negligence on the part of their employers for breaches of health and safety.
We would, however, do well to remember our history: concerns about health and safety were often ignored in the not so distant past.
The phrase “dark satanic mills” comes from the poem, And did those feet in ancient time by William Blake. The phrase has been interpreted as a searing indictment of the wickedness and exploitative practices of 19th Century British industrialists who most certainly put profit before people. This is why rare individuals such as the Welsh born industrialist, Robert Owen and his New Lanark Mills we’re regarded as truly radical and progressive employers.
The words of Blake’s poem were later put to music by the composer, Hubert Parry, and is better known as Jerusalem – an alternative English National Anthem for many because of its rallying call for social justice for the poor and the oppressed.
Over time, admittedly, the UK Parliament did intervene by bringing in legislation to curb some of the frankly dangerous and disreputable practices which had been tolerated in British factories, shipyards and mines. With the industrial revolution, Britain did indeed become the ‘workshop of the world’, but this accolade disguised the terrible human cost which could be measured in countless deaths, terrible injuries and overwhelmingly misery.
Some months ago, I saw a photograph by Bill Brandt in The Independent’s Saturday Magazine which documented life in an East Durham mining community. I was pretty shocked by what I saw: the houses of the miners had no windows. Think of it: these workers spent their days down the pit in almost total darkness. More shocking, was the fact that Brandt had taken the photograph as recently as 1937.
Yet surely, the bad old days are long gone? The British work-place has become a much safer place? Undoubtedly, as we shall see, employers have become much more aware of their responsibilities to their employees and workers in respect of the issue of health and safety.
That said, if you look at the info graphic produced below from the UK Health and Safety Executive, poor conditions and practices in British work-places still result in unacceptably high levels of injuries and illness – in 2019!
Recently, Amazon, the global internet retailer, received very unwelcome media attention about the number of industrial injuries which have occurred in its UK premises. It’s probably fair to say that Amazon UK does not enjoy a particularly good reputation amongst trade unions regarding its employment practices and the recent media stories only compound this state of affairs.
Links to stories about Amazon UK on Sky News and Channel 4 News can be found below:
It is worth noting that the employer’s common law duties which aim to protect the health and safety of employees establishes a regime of civil liability. In other words, should the employer breach these duties, he will most likely face a civil action by the injured employee who will be attempting to recover compensation.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, on the other hand, makes an employers criminally liable if they fail to take reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees. An employer will, therefore, face penalties in a criminal court for breaches of the Act.
The Health and Safety (Offences) Act 2008
The provisions of this Act came into force on 16 January 2009 and apply to offences committed after this date by employers. Scottish criminal courts will now have the power to impose maximum fines of £20,000 on employers who breach health and safety rules. In the most serious cases where health and safety rules have been breached or ignored, the courts may also have the right to imprison those responsible.
The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010
Sections 65-68 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 should make it easier for organisations to face prosecution in Scotland in relation to allegations of criminal wrongdoing. According to Section 65, the term “organisation” applies to any of the following bodies:
a body corporate;
an unincorporated association;
a body of trustees;
a government department;
a part of the Scottish Administration;
any other entity which is not an individual
Such proceedings against organisations may be on indictment (Section 66) or on complaint (Section 67).
For a long time, it has been argued that an organisational culture which promotes lax practices or downright dangerous behaviour can lead to the commission of criminal offences. This an attempt to make organisations more accountable under the criminal law for conduct which causes harm to members of the public.
Overall, this means that an employer could face both a criminal action and a civil action for damages where he has neglected to obey the criminal law and the common law in respect of the employee’s health and safety.
If only we need reminding that health and safety remains a major issue in the work-place, we need only look to a story from Scotland which appeared in national media outlets just this week.
Workers at the Mossmorran and Ineos chemical plants took unauthorised industrial action (wildcat strikes) which was motivated by serious concerns about the lack of health and safety in the work-place. Happily, the employers seem to be listening to the concerns and the employees are now back at work.
Failure by employers to take health and safety issues seriously can leave themselves open to both civil and criminal liability. During Britain’s Industrial Revolution (from the 18th to the early 20th Centuries), it’s true to say that there was no such thing as a culture of health and safety in the work-place. Industrialists like Robert Owen were remarkable because they broke with the paradigm of British industrial practice i.e. workers were resources to be used up and tossed aside when no longer needed.
The growth of the trade union movement and the emergence of the British Labour Party (itself a creation of the union movement) led to pressure for change and tangible improvements were made to working practices. Despite these advances, cases such as the death of Annang Neurtey and the figures from the Health and Safety Executive surely caution us against complacency.
Links to reports on the BBC Scotland website about the industrial action can be found below:
Union GMB said the workers had “continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site”.
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.
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.
The latest Blog title sounds like the name of a quaint English or Scottish public house, but as you might expect it relates to matters legal.
This last week, I have just begun to teach my First Year university students about the law of delict (or tort in other common law jurisdictions) and, as always, I’m looking for relevant cases or stories in the news to illustrate this area.
Obligingly enough, a report of a case came through on Friday 17 January 2020 about a plumber called Darren Conquer who has just been awarded £540,000 in damages by the Outer House of the Court of Session as a result of being the victim of medical negligence (see Darren Conquer v Lothian Health Board  CSOH 8).
As I often say to students the basis of the law of delict is loss or injury wrongfully caused (or as the Romans would have said: damnum injuria datum).
Mr Conquer had injured his arm while playing football and he had, subsequently, undergone medical treatment for this. This is where it gets interesting: the injury had occurred some 16 years ago, but Conquer was not suing the person or persons who had injured him during the football match.
This is, of course, where the issue of volenti non fit injuria arises. When you engage in a physical sport, like football, you must accept the risk of possible injury – on the proviso that all of the players conduct themselves properly and within the rules of the game.
The basis of the pursuer’s claim was that the Health Board, as the employer of the doctors who treated him, was vicariously liable because the injury to the arm been misdiagnosed and, consequently, the proper medical procedures had not been followed. Put simply, the pursuer was arguing that the Health Board was culpable or at fault for his losses.
Had the correct diagnosis been made by the doctors and the correct treatment applied, the pursuer would have made either a full recovery or nearly a full recovery and would have been able to return to his job within 6 months of sustaining the injury. The real issue seems to have centred around the failure by the doctors to carry out surgery on the pursuer at a much earlier and vital stage of his treatment.
In short, the medical negligence was the primary cause (the causa causans) of the pursuer’s losses i.e. his inability to work at his chosen trade of plumber (a skilled trade where he had the potential to make a good living).
The doctors treating Conquer owed a duty of care to him and they had been negligent in the manner of both the diagnosis of the severity of the injury and the treatment which followed (or didn’t follow perhaps more accurately).
A link to the opinion of Lady Carmichael in the Outer House can be found below:
For another recent case on medical negligence, please see the Opinion of Lord Pentland in George Andrews v Greater Glasgow Health Board  CSOH 31.
In the above case, the pursuer, the partner of a woman who died as a result of medical negligence, was successful in his claim for damages.
Lord Pentland noted:
“Since I have found that (a) Dr Izzath failed to advise the deceased that she should be admitted; (b) that his failure to give her that advice was negligent; and (c) that the deceased would have accepted the advice had it been given, I need not make any separate finding as to the deceased’s mental state.”
His Lordship went on to observe that:
“I would merely reiterate that I am in no doubt that if Dr Izzath had advised the deceased that she required to be admitted to hospital, she would have accepted his advice.”
A link to Lord Pentland’s Opinion can be found below:
One of the first articles which I wrote for this Blog concerned the liability of producers and suppliers for foreign or dangerous objects.
The article had been inspired by an incident at a Primark store where a member of the public had sensationally discovered part of a human finger bone in a pair of socks.
This gave me a very convenient opening to review the area of product liability. The leading case, of course, is Donoghue v Stevenson  AC 562,  SC (HL) 31,  ScLT 317 or the ‘snail in the ginger beer bottle’. This decision of the House of Lords established the foundations of the modern law of negligence – in Scotland and in England.
Mrs Donoghue did not have a contract of sale with Mr Minchella, the seller of the lemonade bottle and, therefore, she could not bring a claim for damages in terms of the (then) Sale of Goods Act 1893. Even today, Mrs Donoghue would not have a remedy against the seller under the Consumer Rights Act 2015.
So, who could Mrs Donoghue bring a claim against? The manufacturer would seem to be the logical response to this question, but this is the application of hindsight in late 2019. Several years before the Donoghue case, a claim against a manufacturer for harm caused by a dangerous product had been comprehensively rejected by the Inner House of the Court of Session (see Mullen v A G Barr & Co Ltd  SC 461). The House of Lords was, therefore, breaking new legal ground when it found in Mrs Donoghue’s favour against Stevenson, the manufacturer of the lemonade bottle. Stevenson owed a duty of care to the ultimate consumer of the product – irrespective of whether this individual had a contract of sale with the company.
Since Donoghue v Stevenson, this area of the law has developed considerably with the UK Parliament passing the Consumer Protection Act 1987. Part 1 of this Act established a regime of strict liability in relation to dangerous products. Previously, the claimant would be required to prove fault on the part of the manufacturer.
Theoretically, it’s now much easier for a consumer to win a claim against a manufacturer (or someone in the chain of supply) if s/he have suffered injury or damage to property as a result of exposure to dangerous products.
Returning to Primark, the company and the Police have conducted an investigation into the incident and they have not been able to establish responsibility, anywhere in the chain of supply, for the bone’s inclusion in the pair of socks.
It looks as if the affair will go down as one of life’s unsolved mysteries.
A link to the latest developments in the Primark case can be found below:
You get on the plane for a routine flight between Palma de Mallorca to Vienna and, next thing, you’re thinking about instructing lawyers to pursue a personal injury claim on your daughter’s behalf.
Like billions of air travellers before him, HM probably had no idea when asked by the flight attendant whether he wanted a coffee that it would lead to legal action before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (see Case C532/18 Niki Luftfahrt).
When we think of accidents involving airlines, we often fear the worst consequences, but what about a coffee cup which spills over and scalds a 6 year old child?
This is precisely what happened on the flight from Palma to Vienna. The coffee had been served to the child’s father (HM) and placed on his folding table. For unknown reasons, the cup tipped over and injury occurred to the child (GN).
The young girl then sought compensation for her injuries from the Austrian airline Niki Luftfahrt GmbH (which had subsequently gone into liquidation), so father took action (on her behalf) against the administrator of the airline (ZU).
The question which then arose was whether such an incident was within the meaning of the definition of ‘accident’ which is to be found within the international agreement known as the Montreal Convention. International Conventions are entered into by States to lay down common legal principles and thus avoid the (serious) problem of competing legal jurisdictions e.g. between France and the United States of America. The Montreal Convention has been incorporated into EU Law since 28 June 2004.
The Supreme Court of Austria referred the matter to the CJEU for clarification under the preliminary ruling procedure in terms of Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
The CJEU noted that the liability of airlines for personal injuries under the Montreal Convention is strict (see paragraph 36 of the judgement). The Court made two other observations (at paragraphs 33 and 34 of its judgement):
‘In the present case, it is apparent from the wording of Article 17(1) of the Montreal Convention that, in order to engage the liability of the carrier, the event causing the death or bodily injury of the passenger must be classified as an ‘accident’ and that accident must take place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking. …
… Since the concept of ‘accident’ is not defined anywhere in the Montreal Convention, reference must be made to the ordinary meaning of that concept in its context, in the light of the object and purpose of that convention.’
So was the incident which occurred on the flight from Palma to Vienna an ‘accident’ within the meaning of the Convention?
The answer to this question was an emphatic yes from the CJEU. According to the Court, ‘the ordinary meaning given to the concept of ‘accident’ is that of an unforeseen, harmful and involuntary event.’
As the CJEU stated:
‘… the concept of ‘accident’ … covers all situations occurring on board an aircraft in which an object used when serving passengers has caused bodily injury to a passenger, without it being necessary to examine whether those situations stem from a hazard typically associated with aviation.’
Airlines can always escape liability if they can show that the injury was caused by the acts or omissions of the passenger, but in this case this was not an option.
A link to a press release summarising the details of the Court’s judgement can be found below:
Throughout the ages, God tends to be blamed for a lot of unfortunate events (it isn’t just a late 20th/early 21st Century phenomenon).
In the Scots law of delict (and in the English law of tort), there is a potential defence to an action for negligence known as damnum fatale or an act of God. The essence of this defence so the defender (or respondent) asserts is that s/he could not prevented harm from occurring to the victim because it was a completely unforeseeable event.
When discussing this defence, the standard case in Scotland to which many commentators refer is Caledonian Railway Co v Greenock Corporation (1917). In this case, the House of Lords was far from impressed by the Greenock Corporation’s argument that freakishly heavy rainfall during summer should be treated as an unforeseeable occurrence – in other words, an act of God. The Corporation had diverted the course of a local burn (stream) in order to fill a swimming pool. Heavy rainfall occurred and the water from the pool overflowed and flooded neighbouring property which belong to the Caledonian Railway. The Greenock Corporation was found liable to the Railway for the damage caused. The amount of rainfall might be unusual for other places in Scotland, but certainly not for Greenock. Knowing Greenock well, I can attest to the amount of rain that falls there on a regular basis and I think an argument could easily be made to confer upon it the dubious accolade of the wettest town in Scotland.
The defence of damnum fatale arose recently (and briefly) in a case before Lord Glennie in the Outer House of the Court of Session (see Allen Woodhouse v Lochs and Glens (Transport) Ltd  CSOH 105).
I will say, of course, from the outset that Lord Glennie sensibly rejected any possible part that this defence might have to play in proceedings:
‘But I am left with this concern. My finding on the evidence is that the weather conditions were unpleasant and the wind was strong – but there was nothing exceptional about the conditions, winds of that strength were foreseeable, and extreme turbulence, being a feature of the topography of that area, could also be foreseen. For that reason I would have rejected the defence of damnum fatale, had it been necessary to consider it.’
The facts of the case were as follows:
Mr Woodhouse was a tourist, who was on a 7 day Ceilidh Spring Break, staying at the Loch Awe Hotel. As part of the package, the defenders (Lochs and Glens (Transport)) took the tourist party on day trips using one of its buses. On one of the day trips, Mr Woodhouse and his fellow tourists had stopped near the top of the well known beauty spot, the Rest and Be Thankful. The weather was particularly foul that day and, understandably, most of the tourists did not take the opportunity to leave the bus and go out to the viewpoint.
This part of the excursion was all too brief and the bus driver decided to leave the viewpoint. Shortly after the bus had pulled away, the driver became aware that the passenger door was slightly open and she stopped the bus to close it. When this was done, she started the bus and headed down the Rest and Be Thankful on the Inveraray side. By this point, the force of the wind had increased dramatically and the bus was effectively heading directly into the path of a violent gale. To cut a long story short, the driver took (what she believed were) reasonable precautions and moderated her speed and driving technique. Nevertheless, despite these measures, the bus eventually went off the road due to a combination of unfortunate events i.e. the uneven slope just above Loch Restil; the lack of a safety barrier at the time of the accident; the high winds and the build up of mud on the vehicle’s wheels as it attempted to navigate the grass verge which affected the braking system.
As a result of the bus leaving the road, Mr Woodhouse suffered injuries and he brought an action for compensation (£15,000) against Lochs and Glens (Transport) for the alleged negligence of its employee. Although Mr Woodhouse’s claim was initially lodged in the Sheriff Court, it was later transferred to the Court of Session in recognition of the importance of some of the issues and consequences which it raised (there were 51 other passengers on the bus that day).
Due to the fact that control of the situation was the responsibility of the defenders and its driver, the burden of proof switched to the defenders to demonstrate that they were not liable in negligence to Mr Woodhouse. The merits of his claim would, therefore, stand or fall on the basis of Mr Woodhouse’s reliance on the legal principle known as the facts speak for themselves (res ipsa loquitur).
In dismissing Mr Woodhouse’s claim for damages, Lord Glennie noted that:
‘I am persuaded on the evidence that the defenders have discharged the burden on them of proving that the accident happened without their negligence. The evidence that the coach was well maintained and did not suffer from any relevant pre-existing defect was not challenged; indeed it was a matter of agreement in the Joint Minute lodged in process by the parties. The only challenge, the only suggestion of fault advanced by the pursuer, was in relation to the actions of the driver.’
Critically, his Lordship went on to say that, although the bus driver may have misjudged the actual speed at which she was driving the vehicle, she had not been driving dangerously.
Taken together, all of these factors demonstrated that neither the defenders nor the driver were liable in negligence to Mr Woodhouse.
A link to Lord Glennie’s Opinion can be found below:
On Friday 21 February 2020, two women were injured in a Glasgow street when a shop sign was dislodged in high winds and landed on them. Were the high winds an act of God or did the store fail to safeguard against this type of incident? Read on …