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Tort | Negligence

Partial Defence: Contributory

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Partial Defence: Contributory Negligence

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  • partial defence: if C careless act contributed to C's damage
  • Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 / S1(1): damages reduced just and equitable share / S4: damage includes loss of life & personal injury
  • for contributory negligence C does not have to owe D any duty of care (Jones v Livox Quarries [1952])
  • standard of care: subjective approach / Ds usually insured but C will suffer loss personally


  • generally: the younger the child the less likely contributory negligence would apply / D may argue negligent parents are joint tortfeasors
  • P hit by overtaking car / defence failed: P reached standard of care expected of ordinary 13 yr old in circumstances (Gough v Thorne [1966])
  • 11 yr old hit by bus busy London road playing football / 75% contributory negligence: reckless even for age (Morales v Eccleston [1991])


  • standard of care: reasonable rescuer / taking account of emergency nature of situation
  • doctor well rescue / defence failed: P not show wholly unreasonable disregard for his own safety (Baker v TE Hopkins [1959])
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Partial Defence: Contributory Negligence

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Dilemma cases

  • C placed in imminent danger by D's negligence / whether degree of danger justified action C takes to avoid risk
  • jump from coach / defence failed: P acted reasonably in perilous situation (Jones v Boyce (1816))
  • train door / defence succeeded: P taken unnecessary risk / distinguished Jones v Boyce (1816) as no immediate danger (Adams v Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway (1869))


  • injury at work: circumstances of work & employer's statutory responsibilities considered (Caswell v Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries [1939])
  • 20% contributory negligence: P decided to ride dangerously on vehicle despite warnings (Jones v Livox Quarries [1952])

Reduction of damages

  • reduction: extent C's carelessness caused damage (causation) & blameworthiness (culpability) (Stapley v Gypsum Mines [1953])
  • court calculate damages if no contributory negligence / deduct % responsibility of C
  • if C's responsibility less than 10% / no reduction (Johnson v Tennant Bros 1954)


  • D must prove C failed to take reasonable care of himself & this contributed to C's loss
  • prisoner / defence failed: addiction not cause / high bunk bed cause (St George v Home Office [2008])
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Partial Defence: Contributory Negligence

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Road traffic accidents

  • causal link must be established between C's careless conduct & his loss
  • Court of Appeal if wearing seat belt would have: made no difference: 0% reduction in damages / made injuries less severe: 15% / avoided injury: 25% (Froom v Butcher [1976])
  • courts reluctant to hear arguments about potential worse injuries (if seat belt worn) (Patience v Andrews [1983])
  • D must show C not wearing seat belt made difference to loss suffered (Stanton v Collinson [2010])
  • contributory negligence not apply: if exempt from wearing seat belts: taxi drivers / reversing drivers / medically certified
  • D must establish causal link between C's failure to wear crash helmet & his injuries
  • motorbike no crash helmet / head injuries / 15% reduction in damages for contributory negligence (O'Connell v Jackson [1972])
  • Court of Appeal: same tariff for failure to wear crash helmet / as Froom v Butcher [1976] for seat belts (Capps v Miller [1989])
  • if C travels as passenger / knowing driver drunk / damages reduced if injured in accident caused by driver's intoxication / Cs drunkenness no excuse
  • if C travels as passenger / knowing no lights or brakes / damages reduced if injured in accident caused by lack of lights or brakes
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