Case

Chapman v Hearse
(1961) 106 CLR 112

Summary

Facts

Mr Chapman (the Appellant) drove negligently causing an accident. The car he was driving flipped over and he was thrown into the road where he lay unconscious.

A Dr. Cherry, who was driving past, stopped his vehicle and went to help Mr Chapman.

While he was attending to the unconscious Mr Chapman, Dr. Cherry was struck by a car driven by Mr Hearse (the Respondent) who was also driving negligently.

Dr Cherry died as a result.

Mr Chapman was held partially responsible for Dr Cherry’s death, and was ordered to pay money to his estate.

Mr Chapman lodged an appeal, claiming he owed no duty of care to Dr Cherry, and that the negligent driving by Mr Hearse had broken the chain of causation.

Held

Reasonable Foreseeability Test

The precise sequence of events need not be foreseen, it is sufficient if it appears that injury to a class of persons of which he was one might reasonably have been foreseen as a consequence.

More specifically, the Court in a joint and unanimous judgment stated at [6]:

One thing is certain and that is that in order to establish the prior existence of a duty of care with respect to a plaintiff subsequently injured as the result of a sequence of events following a defendant’s carelessness it is not necessary for the plaintiff to show that the precise manner in which his injuries were sustained was reasonably foreseeable; it is sufficient if it appears that injury to a class of persons of which he was one might reasonably have been foreseen as a consequence. As far as we can see the test has never been authoritatively stated in terms other than those which would permit of its general application and it would be quite artificial to make responsibility depend upon, or to deny liability by reference to, the capacity of a reasonable man to foresee damage of a precise and particular character or upon his capacity to foresee the precise events leading to the damage complained of.

Reasonable foreseeability was further defined as involving a risk of harm that was ‘not unlikely’.

The Court held that it was reasonably foreseeable that someone would stop to help Mr Chapman, and that in doing so it was ‘not unlikely’that they may themselves be injured. There was therefore a duty of care.

New Intervening Acts

The Court stated that on principle, it is impossible to exclude from the realm of reasonable foresight subsequent intervening acts merely on the ground that those acts, when examined, are found to be wrongful.

On the issue of new intervening act at [11] it said:

no doubt that Dr. Cherry’s presence in the roadway was, immediately, the result of Chapman’s negligent driving … The degree of risk which his presence in the roadway entailed depended, of course, on the circumstances as they in fact existed and the circumstances were, in fact, such that the risk of injury from passing traffic was real and substantial and not, as would have been the case if the accident had happened in broad daylight, remote and fanciful. Perhaps, some confirmation for the proposition that the risk was substantial may be found in the fact that within a minute or two, or even less, Dr. Cherry was run down by a driver whose vision of the roadway must have been impeded to a great extent by the prevailing conditions.

In the circumstances it was held that Chapman’s negligence must be regarded as a cause of Dr. Cherry’s death. Damages (compensation) payable were to be  1/4 by Mr Chapman, and 3/4 by Mr Hearse.

Key Information

Court:

High Court of Australia

Judges: 

Dixon C.J.(1), Kitto(1), Taylor(1), Menzies and Windeyer(1) JJ.

Issues:

Reasonable foreseeabilty

Duty of Care

New intervening act

Full Case online:

[1961] HCA 46

Case Citator:

LawCite: Chapman v Hearse