Wrong Of Negligence

Wrong Of Negligence
Wrong Of Negligence
Quick Summary of Wrong Of Negligence

A wrong of negligence refers to legal wrongdoing in which the responsible party did not have the intention to cause harm, but their negligent behaviour led to harm being inflicted upon another individual. This stands in contrast to intentional wrongs, where the person had the deliberate intention to cause harm. For instance, if a driver is texting while driving and collides with another vehicle, causing injury, they may be held accountable for negligence. Although they did not have the intention to cause harm, their careless actions resulted in harm to another person. Another example is when a store owner neglects to clean up a spill on the floor, causing a customer to slip and sustain an injury. In this case, the store owner may be held responsible for a wrong of negligence as they failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing harm to their customers. In summary, a wrong of negligence occurs when someone’s careless actions lead to harm being inflicted upon another person.

What is the dictionary definition of Wrong Of Negligence?
Dictionary Definition of Wrong Of Negligence

A negligence wrong occurs when someone carelessly causes harm to another person unintentionally, which is considered a civil offence. This differs from an intentional wrong, where someone deliberately hurts another person. In a negligence wrong, the person did not intend to cause harm, but their actions were still in violation of the law.

Full Definition Of Wrong Of Negligence

Negligence is a fundamental concept in tort law, primarily concerned with the breach of a duty of care resulting in damage. This legal overview will explore the historical development, key elements, significant case law, defences, and implications of negligence within British law.

Historical Development of Negligence

Negligence has evolved significantly over centuries, initially rooted in common law. The landmark case of Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932] AC 562 established the modern principles of negligence. This case introduced the ‘neighbour principle’, articulated by Lord Atkin, which fundamentally reshaped the duty of care concept. He posited that one must take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions that can foreseeably injure their “neighbour,” defined as persons closely and directly affected by one’s actions.

Preceding Influences

Prior to Donoghue v. Stevenson, negligence claims were limited and fragmented, often requiring a pre-existing contractual relationship. Cases like Heaven v. Pender [1883] 11 QBD 503 laid the groundwork, suggesting that a duty of care could exist independently of contract, but it was Donoghue that unified these ideas into a coherent doctrine.

Key Elements of Negligence

Negligence claims are structured around four key elements:

  1. Duty of Care: The defendant owed a duty of care to the claimant.
  2. Breach of Duty: The defendant breached that duty.
  3. Causation: The breach caused harm to the claimant.
  4. Damage: The claimant suffered actual damage or loss.

Duty of Care

The establishment of a duty of care is crucial. Post-Donoghue, the courts developed tests to determine its existence. The current leading test is from Caparo Industries plc v. Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605, which introduced a three-stage test:

  1. Foreseeability: Was the damage to the claimant a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct?
  2. Proximity: Was there a sufficiently proximate relationship between the claimant and the defendant?
  3. Fair, Just, and Reasonable: Is it fair, just, and reasonable to impose a duty of care?

Breach of Duty

Once a duty is established, the claimant must prove a breach. This involves showing that the defendant failed to meet the standard of care expected. The standard is typically that of the ‘reasonable person’, as illustrated in Blyth v. Birmingham Waterworks Co. [1856] 11 Ex Ch 781. The court considers what a reasonable person would have done in similar circumstances.


Causation requires the claimant to demonstrate that the breach caused the harm. This is examined through two tests:

  1. Factual Causation: The ‘but for’ test, where the claimant must show that but for the defendant’s breach, the harm would not have occurred (Barnett v. Chelsea & Kensington Hospital Management Committee [1969] 1 QB 428).
  2. Legal Causation: The damage must not be too remote. This is determined using the ‘remoteness’ test, notably from The Wagon Mound (No. 1) [1961] AC 388, which asks whether the type of damage was a foreseeable result of the breach.


The claimant must prove actual damage, which can be physical, psychological, or financial. Pure economic loss is generally not recoverable unless it arises from a physical damage or is a result of negligent misstatement, as established in Hedley Byrne & Co Ltd v. Heller & Partners Ltd [1964] AC 465.

Significant Case Law

Donoghue v. Stevenson [1932]

This foundational case involved Mrs. Donoghue, who consumed ginger beer containing a decomposed snail, resulting in illness. The House of Lords held that manufacturers owe a duty of care to consumers, establishing the neighbour principle and laying the groundwork for modern negligence law.

Caparo Industries plc v. Dickman [1990]

Caparo purchased shares in Fidelity Plc based on erroneous accounts audited by Dickman. The House of Lords formulated the three-stage test for duty of care, significantly shaping how courts assess negligence claims.

Bolam v. Friern Hospital Management Committee [1957] 1 WLR 582

This case established the ‘Bolam test’ for professional negligence. It held that a professional is not negligent if their actions are consistent with a practice accepted as proper by a responsible body of professionals skilled in that particular art.

Defences to Negligence

Several defences can mitigate or nullify a negligence claim:

Contributory Negligence

Under the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, if the claimant contributed to their harm, their damages can be reduced proportionally. This was demonstrated in Jones v. Livox Quarries Ltd [1952] 2 QB 608, where the claimant’s damages were reduced due to his partial fault.

Volenti Non Fit Injuria (Consent)

This defence asserts that the claimant consented to the risk of harm. In ICI Ltd v. Shatwell [1965] AC 656, the claimant’s damages were nullified because he willingly accepted the risk of his actions.


If the claimant was involved in illegal activity at the time of the harm, the defence of illegality can bar recovery. This was illustrated in Pitts v. Hunt [1991] 1 QB 24, where the claimant’s claim was denied due to his participation in illegal and dangerous activities.

Implications of Negligence

Negligence law serves several critical functions in society:


Primarily, it provides a mechanism for compensating victims of harm. By holding parties accountable for their actions, negligence law ensures victims are financially compensated for their losses.


Negligence law also acts as a deterrent, encouraging individuals and entities to act responsibly and avoid conduct that could harm others.


The principles of negligence promote justice by ensuring that those who suffer harm due to another’s lack of care can seek redress.

Economic Efficiency

By internalising the costs of negligent behaviour, the law promotes economic efficiency. Entities are incentivised to adopt safer practices, ultimately reducing the incidence of harm and associated costs.

Negligence in Specific Contexts

Medical Negligence

Medical negligence, or clinical negligence, involves healthcare professionals breaching their duty of care to patients. The Bolam test is often applied to determine if the standard of care was met. Recent cases, such as Montgomery v. Lanarkshire Health Board [2015] UKSC 11, have expanded the scope, emphasising informed consent and the patient’s right to understand the risks of treatment.

Professional Negligence

This pertains to breaches of duty by professionals such as lawyers, accountants, and architects. The standard of care is typically higher due to their specialised knowledge. Henderson v. Merrett Syndicates Ltd [1995] 2 AC 145 established that professionals owe a duty of care even in the absence of a contractual relationship.

Occupiers’ Liability

The Occupiers’ Liability Acts 1957 and 1984 outline the duty of care owed by those in control of premises to visitors and trespassers. The 1957 Act imposes a duty to ensure visitors are reasonably safe, while the 1984 Act extends limited protection to trespassers.

Product Liability

Manufacturers and suppliers owe a duty of care to consumers, as established in Donoghue v. Stevenson. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 further imposes strict liability for defective products, simplifying claims for consumers by not requiring proof of negligence.

Future Developments and Challenges

Technological Advancements

Emerging technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, present new challenges for negligence law. Determining liability in accidents involving autonomous systems requires adapting existing principles to address the complexities of machine learning and automated decision-making.

Environmental Negligence

As environmental concerns grow, negligence claims related to environmental damage are becoming more prominent. Cases like Cambridge Water Co Ltd v. Eastern Counties Leather plc [1994] 2 AC 264 highlight the challenges in proving causation and the foreseeability of harm in environmental contexts.

Mental Health and Negligence

There is increasing recognition of psychological harm in negligence claims. Courts are evolving in their approach to mental health, as seen in White v. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police [1999] 2 AC 455, which addressed the psychiatric injury of police officers involved in the Hillsborough disaster.


The wrong of negligence is a cornerstone of British tort law, balancing the need for individual responsibility with the protection of public welfare. Through its development, key elements, significant case law, and defences, negligence law provides a robust framework for addressing harm caused by carelessness. As society evolves, so too will the principles of negligence, adapting to new challenges and ensuring continued relevance in promoting justice and accountability.

Wrong Of Negligence FAQ'S

Negligence is a legal concept that refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care, resulting in harm or injury to another person or their property.

To establish a claim of negligence, four elements must be proven: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed them a duty of care, breached that duty, and that the breach directly caused their injuries or damages.

Yes, negligence can be unintentional. It refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care, regardless of intent. It is based on the standard of care that a reasonable person would have exercised in similar circumstances.

Negligence refers to the failure to exercise reasonable care, while gross negligence involves a much higher degree of carelessness or recklessness. Gross negligence is a more serious form of negligence and may result in punitive damages.

Yes, a person can be held liable for negligence even if they were not present at the time of the incident. If they had a duty of care towards the injured party and breached that duty, they can still be held responsible for their negligence.

Yes, a business can be held liable for the negligence of its employees if the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the incident. This is known as vicarious liability.

Contributory negligence is a legal defence that reduces or eliminates the plaintiff’s ability to recover damages if their own negligence contributed to the incident. In some jurisdictions, if the plaintiff is found to be even slightly negligent, they may be barred from recovering any damages.

Yes, a person can sue for emotional distress caused by negligence if they can prove that the negligence directly caused their emotional distress and that it was severe enough to warrant compensation.

In certain circumstances, a person may be excused from liability for negligence if they were acting in an emergency situation and did not have time to exercise reasonable care. However, this defence is highly fact-specific and depends on the circumstances of each case.

The statute of limitations for filing a negligence claim varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of claim. It is important to consult with an attorney to determine the specific time limits that apply to your case.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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