• In the case of Jobling v Associated Dairies [1982] AC 794, the chain of causation in negligence could be broken by a non-tortious supervening event for a prior tort; this supervening event had to be factored in before assessing the amount of compensation to be awarded

Facts of the Case

  • D (the employer) had breached his statutory duty towards C and this resulted in C sustaining an injury after a fall in 1973, while working at D’s butcher shop; C became partially disabled and successfully claimed for future loss of earnings
  • A further fall followed and incapacitated C for heavy work
  • C additionally suffered from a condition known as myelopathy, which however, was in no way related to the two accidents suffered by C, though rendered him unfit for work

Issues in Jobling v Associated Dairies [1982] AC 794

  • An appeal to the House of Lords for appropriate compensation for the exacerbated fall leading to a heavier disability

Held by the House of Lords   

  • Appeal dismissed – D (the respondent; the employer) ought to pay damages for loss of earnings until the time C (the appellant) had been rendered unfit for work; C’s myelopathy had to be considered at the time of C’s fall if C’s underlying condition had been present then; it would be difficult for a medical witness to distinguish between situations where the condition was present before the fall and whether it developed as a result of it

Lord Wilberforce

Dismissed the appeal, but accepted the ‘vicissitudes’ argument delivered by C’s legal representatives

  • ‘I think that this is what Baker v. Willoughby did – and indeed that Lord Pearson reached his decision in this way: the rationalisation of the decision as to which I at least have doubts, need and should not be applied to other cases. In the present case the Court of Appeal reached the unanswerable conclusion that to apply Baker v. Willoughby to the facts of the present case would produce an unjust result, and I am willing to accept the corollary that justice, so far as it can be perceived, lies the other way and that the supervening myelopathy should not be disregarded.’ [at p.804]

Lord Edmund-Davies, Lord Russell Killowen, Lord Keith of Kinkel and Lord Bridge of Harwich

Rejected the persuasiveness of Baker v. Willoughby [1970] AC 467 and rejected the appeal

  • Lord Russell of Killowen: ‘Some of the reasons given in that case are susceptible of being taken as pointing in favour of the appellant in the instant appeal, but they do not persuade me that we are led by Baker v. Willoughby to take a further step by allowing this appeal.’ [at p.810]
  • Lord Keith of Kinkel: ‘I am therefore of opinion that the majority in Baker v. Willoughby were mistaken in approaching the problems common to the case of a supervening tortious act and to that of supervening illness wholly from the point of view of causation.’ [at p.815]
  • Lord Bridge of Harwich: ‘It follows from the foregoing that I am, with the utmost respect, unable to agree with the opinion of Lord Reid in Baker’s case [1970] A.C. 467, as expressed in the two passages from his speech which I have cited. In particular, I cannot accept that the decision in Harwood v. Wyken Colliery Co. [1913] 2 K.B. 158, affords any authority in support of Lord Reid’s conclusion, or that he was right to say that causation could not be different in tort and under the Workmen’s Compensation Acts.’ [at p.820]