Classes of Defendant protected by Law in Negligence

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Classes of Defendant protected by Law in Negligence


Special claimants and defendants

The law of negligence has no statutory basis. It has developed through a huge number of
cases. This has meant that when considering whether a duty of care exists in any given
situation, the courts have the flexibility to take public policy considerations into account and steer the evolution of the tort of negligence accordingly. This flexibility has also allowed the courts to protect certain classes of defendant from liability in negligence and also to provide additional help to certain classes of claimant in bringing an action. Some of the special classes protected by law include;


Unborn children

The existence of a duty of care requires reasonable foresight of harm. However, in the case of unborn children, the defendant might not realise that the female claimant is pregnant, although it is quite possible that a person’s negligence might harm an unborn child. In Burton v Islington Health Authority [1993] QB 204 (CA) it was held that a duty of care is owed to an unborn child which becomes actionable on birth. In other words, a child can sue in negligence for events occurring during its time in its mother’s womb. This common law position is only applicable to persons born prior to 22 July 1976 when the Congenital Disabilities (Civil Liability) Act 1976 came into force. This Act gives a right of action to a child who is born alive and disabled in respect of the disability, if it is caused by an occurrence which affected the mother during pregnancy or the mother or child during labour, causing disabilities which would not otherwise have been present. It extends to pre-conception torts, where the mother is harmed prior to conceiving and the harm suffered affects the health of the baby at birth.

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Police, rescuers and public authorities
The courts have found that there is no general duty of care owed by the police to any particular individual. In Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire [1989] AC 53 (HL) it was held that the duty of the police is to the public at large. This case involved Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ who murdered 13 women. The mother of his last victim sued the police for negligence for failing to catch him, alleging numerous missed opportunities. The House of Lords held that the police owed no duty of care towards Susan Hill to protect her from the Ripper on the basis that if such claims were allowed, the police would be inhibited in the exercise of their professional judgement and that a significant amount of police resources would be diverted from investigating crime to the defence of civil cases brought
against them.


The court have held in a plethora of cases that there’s no duty of care owed by the police to any particular individual. In HILL V CHIEF CONSTABLE OF WESTERN YORKSHIRE, the court held that the police owes a duty to the public at large and not a particular individual. In that case a particular serial murderer has killed a lot of people, the mother of his last victim sued the police claiming that if the police weren’t negligent they would have caught him before he killed her daughter. The court held that the police weren’t liable as they hold no duty of care to Susan Hill. This approach has been extended to fire service, ambulance (they have no general duty to pick the call however once they pick then they owe a duty, and other public authorities. In all the court have held in cases like X(MINORS) v BEDFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL, that if the public officers are not liable I’m negligence when they carry out their delegated power. Also In D V BURY METROPOLITAN BUROUGH COUNCIL, a local authority was held not to owe a duty of care to the parents of a child who was the subject of a child abuse situation.

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However, In CONNOR V SURREY COUNTY COUNCIL, the court held that the common law duty of care maybe established in exceptional circumstances, and held an education authority liable for psychiatric injury caused to one of its employees by its negligence.

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