Liability for Omissions Essay

7249 Words Apr 3rd, 2011 29 Pages
Liability for Omissions

The law has historically been reluctant to impose a general liability for omissions as opposed to positive acts. This means that there is no general duty of care in tort to act in order to prevent harm occurring to another. In Smith v Littlewoods Organisation, Lord Goff stated clearly that “the common law does not impose liability for what are called pure omissions”. Similarly, in Yuen Kun Yeu v A-G of Hong Kong, Lord Keith stated that people can ignore their moral responsibilities to prevent harm occurring to another, even when it is easily within their power to do so. He added that it would be unthinkable for there to be “liability in negligence on the part of one who sees another about to walk over a cliff
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Thus in Stansbie v Troman, a decorator who agreed to lock a customer’s premises, but failed to do so, was held to have owed a duty of care which was breached so he was liable for the resulting loss caused by a theft in the property. Similarly, in Costello v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police, a police officer who agreed to stand close by while a fellow officer visits a violent prisoner in the cells was held to owe a duty of care to his fellow officer, which was breached when he failed to come to her aid when she was attacked. Another example is sporting bodies who license an event where there is a possibility that one of the participant’s might suffer physical injury. Thus in Watson v British Boxing Board of Control, it was held that the licensing authority owed a duty to provide adequate medical facilities and assistance at this boxing match, and thus this duty was breached when this was not adequately done.

A defendant may also be deemed to have assumed responsibility towards another person by virtue of his acts towards that person. In Barrett v Ministry of Defence, where a naval airman had become excessively drunk on an MoD base. The duty officer had done nothing to prevent him from drinking so much, but when the airman fell unconscious, he arranged for him to be taken to his room, but no one was asked to supervise him. Consequently, he choked on his

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