The Tort of Negligence

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“The categories of negligence are never closed”. [Lord Macmillan in Donoghue v. Stevenson- (1932)] The tort of negligence is a relatively recent phenomenon, which has come to become the most dynamic and rapidly changing areas of liability in modern law. Lord Macmillan’s assertion that “ the categories of negligence are never closed” suggests how courts possess the power to expand the area of liability by bringing in new duty situations as a result of new set of facts coming is everyday. As it is difficult to define negligence in simple terms, it can be said that the ‘neighbour’ principle for duty of care, remains within its wider social context one of the most important elements of negligence. The courts had always been reluctant to provide remedy for claims where there was no contract between the claimant and the defendant in respect for policy consideration. The main reason put forward for this was the so-called ‘floodgates’ argument. That the courts should not allow a remedy in a particular case as it would open the doors to many claims in similar situation. The same was accepted an obiter dictum by Lord Buckmaster in his dissenting speech in Donoghue v. Stevenson. Decided by a 3-2 majority of the House of Lords, Donoghue v. Stevenson (1932) is regarded as the classic case in this regard, in part because it laid down the foundational principle for the modern law of negligence. However, this can be better understood by looking at the previous cases that presided Donoghue v. Stevenson where in similar factual circumstances negligence was not recognised. In Bates v. Batey &Co. Ltd., the defendants, ginger beer manufacturers, were held not liable to a consumer (who had purchased from a retailer one of their bottles) for injury caused by the defect in the bottle as it could have been avoided by exercise of reasonable care. Like wise, in Winterbottom v. Wright, A contracted with B to provide a mail-coach to convey the mailbags along a certain line of road.

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