Negligence Law - Duty of Care

How do the Courts decide whether a person owes a duty of care to another not to cause him damage?

Negligence law - duty of care

An individual may owe a duty of care to another person to ensure that they do not suffer any unreasonable harm or loss.

If it is found that a person does owe such a duty and breached his duty to another, a legal liability is imposed on him to compensate the victim for any losses they incur.

The law of negligence has evolved since the seminal case of Donoghue v Stevenson, where a woman sued a drink manufacturer for the severe gastroenteritis and shock caused from a dead snail in a can of ginger beer.

The Courts have developed many tests on whether a a defendant owes the Plaintiff a duty of care which simply put is a duty to look out for him and not to cause loss or damage.

The Courts have used many old tests including the neighbour principle, Anns two stage test and the Caparo three stage test.

In 2007 the Singapore Court of Appeal in Spandeck Engineering (S) Pte Ltd v Defence Science & Technology Agency finally settled on the Spandeck test.

In the Spandex case, the Court of Appeal stated that the test ought to be a single two-stage test of the kind proposed by Phang J in Sunny Metal – comprising first proximity and then policy considerations should be used to determine the existence of a duty of care in all situations.

The first stage of the test for the determination of duty of care requires that there must be sufficient legal proximity between the claimant and the defendant.

Physical proximity – (in the sense of space and time) between the person or property of the plaintiff and the person or property of the defendant.

Circumstantial proximity – such as an overriding relationship of employer and employee, or of a professional man and his client.

Causal proximity – in the sense of the closeness or directness of the causal connection between the defendant’s act and the loss sustained by the plaintiff.

The voluntary assumption of responsibility by the defendant to take care to avoid causing loss to the plaintiff.

The reliance by the plaintiff upon the defendant to take such care in circumstances where the defendant knew or ought to have known of that reliance.

The second stage of the test requires the court to take policy considerations into account to ascertain whether or not the prima facie duty that had been established should be negated.

An example of a relevant policy consideration is the existence of a contractual matrix which defines the rights and liabilities of the parties as well as their relative bargaining positions.

Filed under: Torts
Benjamin Li Yong Le

About the Author - Benjamin Li Yong Le

Benjamin Li Yong Le (“Ben”), is an Advocate & Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore. Ben is currently running his own boutique corporate and commercial law firm under the name and style of L’Avocat Law.

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