Facts[edit | edit source]

Several "borstal boys" (young offenders between fifteen and twenty) were under the supervision of three officers when they were working on an island. The officers went to sleep and left them to their work. Seven of the boys escaped, stole a yacht and crashed it into another yacht that was owned by Dorset Yacht. They also boarded the second yacht and caused further damage. The Home Office appealed Dorset's ability to bring a claim to the House of Lords.

Issue[edit | edit source]

  1. Does the fact that competent adults performed the negligent acts break the chain of causation?
  2. Can you be liable for the tortious actions of another party towards a third party?

Decision[edit | edit source]

Appeal dismissed, trial allowed.

Reasons[edit | edit source]

It is established that the result would not have occurred if the officers were not negligent and had continued to monitor the boys. There are three claims by the Home Office that must be dealt with:

  1. there is no authority to impose a duty like this;
  2. no person can be liable for the acts of another adult who is not their servant or acting on their behalf; and
  3. public policy requires that the officers should be immune from this duty.

Lord Reid, for the majority, dismisses the first defence saying that times have changed and now liability can be found in cases where the outcome was not foreseeable. All that needs to be established is that the initial act was negligent (per Wagon Mound), which has been established here. They also reject the second defence stating that this claim is negated if the action of the third party is the type of result that could reasonably be foreseen as a result of the negligent act. In this case, the stealing of the boat and damaging another is exactly the type of outcome that should have been foreseen by the officers. Finally, the third defence fails because there are no obvious public policy issues that prevent the duty from being established.

Lord Diplock concurs but has different reasoning. He says that in general, in new situations where duty is being established the characteristics of that situation must be compared to those present in situations accepted to constitute negligence. When there is a discrepancy one must decide if what the new case is lacking is enough to prevent duty from being established. In this case he decides that the fact that they were on an island made the escape by boat a very foreseeable outcome of the negligence, and therefore it should have been prevented.

Viscount Dilhorne, in the dissent, disagrees with the majority because he thinks that they are enacting new laws, which should be the job of legislators and not the courts.

Ratio[edit | edit source]

  • When determining if liability exists in a new situation:
    • the situation must be compared to existing situations which constitute negligence to determine certain characteristics;
    • those circumstances must be analysed to see if they give rise to a duty of care; and
    • if there is a discrepancy, it must be determined if the discrepancy is sufficient to prevent a duty of care from arising.
  • Liability is not necessarily negated simply because a third party performed the act that caused damage as a result of the initial negligent act; if this action was a foreseeably outcome of the initial act then the original negligent party will be responsible for the outcome of the third party’s actions.
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