Discuss the limited circumstances in which a duty of care might be imposed on a defendant for an omission

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The main reason why courts are reluctant to impose duties to act may be seen in the arguments made in the case of Stovin v. Wise. The court in Stovin found that requiring somebody to act is an invasion of individual freedom. Moreover, the court also found that the duty prevent harm or render assistance to others is one which is ascribed to a wide range of people, so to single out a person for failing to act is unjust, because one person should not be singled out to be held liable if there are a number of people who have the same duty. Moreover, imposing a duty on third parties for omissions is not generally done because of market distortions which might result. This is assuming that an activity should bear its own costs, and if some of these costs are imposed on others, then the activity might appear to be cheaper than it really is. Requiring compensation for negligent conduct reduces this effect. However, there is not this justification to impose liability on a person who is not volunteering to spend resources on somebody else, therefore that person may not be rewarded. Just as the person is not rewarded, that person also cannot be punished, unless there is a special reason to do so (Stovin v. Wise). That said, there are exceptions to this general rule, which is the subject of this paper, which will examine these exceptions. Moreover, the cases where omissions were not held to be actionable may further illustrate why courts are hesitant to impose liability for omissions. Discussion There are exceptions to the general rule that omissions are not enough to give rise to negligence actions. For instance, if someone undertakes a duty to assume responsibility for somebody else, then the duty of care does arise, and an omission may give rise to a negligence claim. This was established by the case of Barrett v. MOD [1995] 1 WLR 1217. In the Barrett case, the claimant’s husband died after a night of heavy drinking. At some point, a Petty Officer Wells was instructed to take the claimant’s husband back to the base and look after him. Although the Petty Officer did look after the claimant’s husband, the claimant’s husband was found dead at 2:30 AM. The Barrett court found that the claimant’s husband was responsible only for himself, but when the senior officer assumed responsibility for him, then the duty of care arose, and the senior officer was then responsible to go ahead and give appropriate supervision over the claimant’s husband. Therefore, once he took responsibility, if he did not act, in that he did not go and check on the man, then this omission would give rise to liability. Another example is the well-known case of Stansbie v. Troman [1948] 2 K.B. 48. In this case, a decorator was working on a house and went to buy wallpaper, leaving the door unlocked. Thieves came in and entered while he was away. The decorator was found to be negligent because he had a duty to take reasonable care to guard against thieves entering the dwelling. Therefore, in the Stansbie case, although the ultimate cause of the theft was the positive act of the thief, it was the omission – the failure to lock the door – which made the decorator liable, because he was under the duty of care to make sure that the house was secure before he left. In this case, it was because there was a special relationship between the decorator and the claimant, because there was