Negligence: Duty of Care and Buick Motor Co.

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Negligence, duty and Breach of Duty.

To constitute a legal action against some one’s negligence, several requirements to be fulfilled. First one is that there must exist some duty of care towards the plaintiff by the defendant. The second one is that the defendant should breach such duty of care imposed on him. The third one is that the negligence done by the defendant should be the cause of the harm resulted to the plaintiff. The fourth one is that the harm should have some monetary value.

In Haynes V Harwood (1935) 1 KB 146 at 152, Judge Greer L.J, pointed out these requirements in his judgement stating that “ Negligence in the air will not do: negligence, in order to give a cause of action, must be the neglect of some duty owed to the person who makes the claim”.

The simple meaning is that if one done negligence actions, in a place, which is untouched by other people, in such a place, there would not arise a duty of care toward others. Therefore the question of the breach of such duty of care would also not arise. In such a situation a legal action on negligence can not be instituted.

To understand above elements pertaining to negligence in law of tort, we shall discuss them in detail.

Duty of Care

In tort law, a duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others. It is the first element that must be established to proceed with an action in negligence. The claimant must be able to show a duty of care imposed by law which the defendant has breached. The duty of care may be imposed by operation of law between individuals with no current direct relationship (familial or contractual or otherwise), but eventually become related in some manner.

At common law, duties were formerly limited to those with whom one was in privity one way or another, as exemplified by cases like Winterbottom v. Wright (1842). In the early 20th century, judges began to recognize that enforcing the privity requirement against hapless consumers had harsh results in many product liability cases. The idea of a general duty of care that runs to all who could be foreseeably affected by one's conduct (accompanied by the demolishing of the privity barrier) first appeared in the landmark U.S. case of MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co. (1916) and was imported into UK law by another landmark case, Donoghue v Stevenson [1932].

MacPherson v. Buick Motor Co., 217 N.Y. 382, 111 N.E. 1050 (1916)

A famous New York Court of Appeals opinion by Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo which removed the requirement of privity of contract for duty in negligence actions

The plaintiff, Donald C. MacPherson, a stonecutter, was injured when one of the wooden wheels of his 1909 "Buick Runabout" collapsed. The defendant, Buick Motor Company, had manufactured the vehicle, but not the wheel, which had been manufactured by another party but installed by defendant. It was conceded that the defective wheel could have been discovered upon inspection. The defendant denied liability because the plaintiff had purchased the automobile from a dealer, not directly from the defendant.

The portion of the MacPherson opinion in which Cardozo demolished the privity bar to recovery is as follows:

“ If the nature of a thing is such that it is reasonably certain to place life and limb in peril when negligently made, it is then a thing of danger. Its nature gives warning of the consequence to be expected. If to the element of danger there is added knowledge that the thing will be used by persons other than the purchaser, and used without new tests, then, irrespective of contract, the manufacturer of this thing of danger is under a duty to make it carefully. That is as far as we need to go for the decision of this case . . . . If he is negligent, where danger is to be foreseen, a liability will follow”

Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932]

The case...
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