Chain of Causation in UK Law
McLoughlin v O'Brian
The common law gives no damages for the emotional distress which any normal person experiences when someone he loves is killed or injured. Yet an anxiety neurosis or a reactive depression may be recognisable psychiatric illnesses, with or without psychosomatic symptoms. So, the first hurdle which a plaintiff claiming damages of the kind in question must surmount is to establish that he is suffering, not merely grief, distress or any other normal emotion, but a positive psychiatric illness.
McKew v Holland & Hannen & Cubitts (Scotland) Ltd
It is quite possible that in spite of all reasonable care his leg may give way in circumstances such that as a result he sustains further injury. But if the injured man acts unreasonably he cannot hold the defender liable for injury caused by his own unreasonable conduct. The chain of causation has been broken and what follows must be regarded as caused by his own conduct and not by the defender's fault or the disability caused by it.
Borealis AB v Geogas Trading SA
For there to be a break in the chain of causation, the true cause of the loss must be the conduct of the claimant rather than the breach of contract on the part of the defendant; if the breach of contract by the defendant and the claimant's subsequent conduct are concurrent causes, it must be unlikely that the chain of causation will be broken.
It is, however, also plain that mere unreasonable conduct on a claimant's part will not necessarily do so – for example where the defendant's breach remains an effective cause of the loss, albeit in combination with the claimant's failure to take reasonable precautions in its own interest: see, for example, County Ltd v Girozentrale, per Beldam LJ (loc cit).
Dorset Yacht Company Ltd v Home Office
These cases shew that, where human action forms one of the links between the original wrongdoing of the defendant and the loss suffered by the plaintiff, that action must at least have been something very likely to happen if it is not to be regarded as novus actus interveniens breaking the chain of causation. But if the intervening action was likely to happen I do not think it can matter whether that action was innocent or tortious or criminal.
McGhee v National Coal Board
But it has often been said that the legal concept of causation is not based on logic or philosophy. It is based on the practical way in which the ordinary man's mind works in the every-day affairs of life. From a broad and practical viewpoint I can see no substantial difference between saying that what the defender did materially increased the risk of injury to the pursuer and saying that what the defender did made a material contribution to his injury.
It is admittedly more probable that disease will be contracted if a shower is not taken. The pursuer has after all, only to satisfy the court of a probability, not to demonstrate an irrefragable chain of causation, which in a case of dermatitis, in the present state of medical knowledge, he could probably never do.
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