• In the case of Hughes v Lord Advocate [1963] A.C. 837, it was held that an action for damages in negligence could succeed as the injury flowed from a foreseeable source of danger, even if the way the injuries occurred was unpredictable.

Facts of the Case

  • D, the Post Office, opened a manhole in the street under its statutory powers to perform maintenance on underground telephone equipment.
  • In the evening, the open manhole was covered with a tent and surrounded by warning paraffin lamps, but left unguarded by the workmen during a tea break.
  • C, an 8-year-old boy, entered the tent and explored the manhole. Upon coming back up, a lamp was knocked or lowered into the hole. The resulting explosion caused C to fall into the hole and be severely burned.
  • C contented that his injuries resulted from the negligence of D’s employees, and by leaving the tent easily accessible they breached their duty to take reasonable care to avoid such an incident.


  • Was C’s accident reasonably foreseeable, and thus one which D should have taken precautions against?

Held by the House of Lords (Scotland)

  • Finding for C, that even though the manner in which injury occurred was unpredictable, leaving the manhole open and unguarded, alongside the presence of paraffin lamps, were reasonably foreseeable sources of injury. D had been negligent in not sealing the manhole on a public street.

Lord Guest

  • The argument that the Post Office is not close to a dwelling-house and the street is quiet is irrelevant. Given that it is a public street in the heart of the city, the likelihood of children on the road does not need to be proven. D’s evidence to prove the unlikelihood of children has fallen short.
  • “Was the igniting of paraffin outside the lamp by the flame a foreseeable consequence of the breach of duty? In the circumstances, there was a combination of potentially dangerous circumstances against which the Post Office had to protect the appellant. If these formed an allurement to children it might have been foreseen that they would play with the lamp, that it might tip over, that it might be broken, and that when broken the paraffin might spill and be ignited by the flame. All these steps in the chain of causation seem to have been accepted by all the judges in the courts below as foreseeable. But because the explosion was the agent which caused the burning and was unforeseeable, therefore the accident, according to them, was not reasonably foreseeable. In my opinion, this reasoning is fallacious. An explosion is only one way in which burning can be caused. Burning can also be caused by the contact between liquid paraffin and a naked flame. In the one case paraffin vapour and in the other case liquid paraffin is ignited by fire. I cannot see that these are two different types of accidents. They are both burning accidents and in both cases the injuries would be burning injuries. Upon this view the explosion was an immaterial event in the chain of causation. It was simply one way in which burning might be caused by the potentially dangerous paraffin lamp” [856].