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Breach Of Duty Notes

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This is an extract of our Breach Of Duty document, which we sell as part of our Torts B Notes collection written by the top tier of Monash University students.

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Breach of duty P will allege D breached the duty by [per facts]. To show breach, a standard of care must be imposed, and P must show D fell short of the standard, that the risk of harm was RF and the risk was not insignificant.

1. Past decisions of higher courts are not binding on lower courts (given the variations in facts that may arise and since breach is a question of fact) but can be used to guide the decision (Qualcast).

2. There are no degrees of breach; either a breach occurred or it did not.

Standard of care (SOC) Under WA s 48(1)(c) D can be held to be in breach of duty for failing to take precautions if a RP in D's position would have taken those precautions. This codifies common law, meaning RP retains the meaning of an 'ordinary prudent person' (Vaughan v Menlove). The standard is assessed according to knowledge a reasonable person would have had at the date of the alleged negligence, not at the date of judgment (Roe v Minister for Health). In certain situations, the SOC may be modified. Characteristics reducing or not changing the standard of care

1. A minor will be held to the standard of care of an ordinary child of comparable age: McHale v Watson


P may argue that the particular intelligence/experience of [X] should modify the standard upwards from that of an ordinary child of that age; this question is open. However, it is likely that this argument will not be successful.

2. There is little authority to show whether physical disability is taken into account in setting a standard.

a. Menzies J in McHale v Watson held in his dissenting judgment that a person under a disability is only required to take such reasonable care for his own safety as his capabilities permit; however this is obiter of only one judge.

b. It is likely that even if it does modify the standard, the operative issue would be whether the person was negligent for having allowed himself/herself to be in the risk creating situation in the first place in light of their disability.

3. A D with a mental impairment (even if it reduces cognitive and foresight capacities) will still be held to the normal standard of a reasonable mentally competent person (Carrier v Bonham).

4. Where a person undertakes an activity as a learner or is inexperienced, he or she will still be held to the same standard of care as the ordinary reasonable and experienced person undertaking that activity (Imbree v McNeilly)

5. [any other factor per facts]. The general rule is that the standard of care will not be reduced to reflect personal characteristics (Vaughan v Menlove).

a. Lack of capability/stupidity does not reduce the standard (Vaughan v Menlove).

b. Arguably the judgments in McHale v Watson indicate that where a personal characteristic is a normal stage of human development, rather than an idiosyncrasy, that characteristic will be allowed to modify the standard.

Characteristics increasing the standard of care A person with special skills will be held to the standard of care of a reasonable person possessing those special skills (Philips v William Whiteley). The standard of the RP is assessed according to what could be expected of a reasonable person possessing the skills as at the date of the alleged negligence, not at a later date such as the time of judgment (WA s 58(b)).

1. A person holding themselves out as having certain special skills (whether or not they do) will also be held to the standard of care of a RP actually possessing those skills (WA s 58(a)).

2. A person without special skills, and not holding himself out as having them, in performing acts that a person with special skills would perform, will not be held to the standard of a person with those special skills (Philips v William Whiteley).

Reasonable foreseeability The WA s 48(1)(a) states D is not negligent for failing to protect against a risk of harm unless he or she knew or ought to have known of the risk. This codifies Wyong v Shirt, which tells us that a risk of harm was RF if a RP in D's position would have foreseen that the kind of carelessness alleged against D might cause damage of some kind to P, or to a class of persons to which P belongs.

1. A reasonable person would have foreseen the risk if it was real, that is, not farfetched or fanciful (Wyong). a. A risk which is extremely unlikely to occur may be foreseeable, as long as the risk is real (Wyong)

Not insignificant risk A person is not negligent in failing to take precautions against a risk of harm unless the risk was not insignificant: s 48(1)(b). The legislation simply states:

3. that insignificant risks can includes more than simply those risks that are farfetched or fanciful: WA s 48(3)(a)

4. that risks that are not insignificant are not limited to significant risks: WA s 48(3)(b).

Negligence calculus If a RP in D's would have taken precautions, D will have breached the DOC to P by not taking them (WA s 48(1)(c)). The negligence calculus (from common law, now codified in WA s 48(2)) considers factors courts will take into account, along with other relevant things, to decide what a RP would have done. Probability of harm Under WA s 48(2)(a), courts must consider the probability that harm would occur if care were not taken. The greater the probability, the greater degree of care a RP would have taken (Bolton v Stone).

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