Case Summary: Haynes vs Harwood 1936

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FACTS

The defendants Harwood was the owner of a two horse van, which was being driven by his servant, a man named Bird on August 24 1932. He was collecting a delivery receipt on Paradise Street and in doing so left his horse unattended on the left side of the street. The carriage was later found with a broken chain, which the servant claimed to have put. It was a crowded street, filled with people and a lot of children due to the proximity of several schools. It is speculated that because of some boys throwing stones at the horses, they bolted down the street. They went uninterrupted for a few yards, until they passed a police station, the in-charge being the plaintiff Haynes, a policeman. On seeing the runaway horse bolting, and a woman and some children right in the path of the horses in grave danger, he tried to stop the horses and eventually succeeded in preventing any loss of life and limb after dragging along with the horses for 15 yards, but one of the horses slipped and fell on him causing severe injuries for which he sued for damages.

 PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiff won the case in the Kings Bench in 1925 and was awarded damages. The defendant then filed an appeal in the Court of Appeal against the decision of Finlay J.

 ISSUE

1-If there was negligence on the part of the servant.

2- If ‘Novus actus interveniens’ can be used as defense by the defendant.

3- If ‘volenti non fit injuria’ can be used as a defense or not.

RULES

  • Negligence can be an action or an omission to act in a situation where the defendant owed a certain duty of care to the plaintiff. The act or the omission must have caused an injury to the plaintiff as a result of the breach of duty by the defendant. The injury can be a bodily harm or an injury to the property. The duty of care is assumed from the perspective of a reasonable man
  • ‘Novus Actus Interveniens’ is a Latin term which means there was an action which happened to break the chain of causation. This action takes place after the act of the defendant and before the plaintiff suffers the injuries and has some link between the two. If proved, it waves off the liability from the defendant to pay the damages. Whether the act was severe enough to be termed as Novus actus interveniens has to be examined depending on the circumstances of each case.
  • ‘Volenti non fit injuria’ is a defense in tort which states that if a person willingly places himself in danger then they cannot claim damages for their injury. The essentials for this to be applicable are that the plaintiff must be aware about the harm and he must also agree to the risk of the harm, mere knowledge and no consent to the harm does not entitle the defendant to use this defense .
Also Read:  Case Summary: Taylor v. Caldwell

ANALYSIS

The negligence was proved on part of the defendants since the servant left the carriage unattended in a busy street, he owed a duty of care to the crowd and children present in the street and it was also reasonably foreseeable that in a street full of children, some mischievous child could aggravate the horses and it would put the people in grave danger. It was his duty to be present with the horses or take them with him. The defense of ‘novus actus interveniens’ was not applicable since the plaintiff did not suffer injury due to a combination of actions of the defendant and the children, the actions of  the defendants alone had those foreseeable consequences.  The defendant also took the defense of volenti non fit injuria, they argued that the plaintiff put himself in the way of harm and could not claim damages, but it was observed that being a police officer and not just any ordinary bystander, he could not just stand and watch as lives of small children were in danger, he owed a duty of care with regard to his profession and had taken an oath to prevent any loss of life and limb within his power. Hence volenti non fit injuria was not applicable.

CONCLUSION

The defendant was held liable, the appeal was rejected and the Finlay J. judgment was upheld. The plaintiff was awarded the damages and negligence was found on part of the defendant.

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