The cases of Paul and Sarah fall under Tort law. Tort law is essentially a law of responsibility. It makes it possible for persons to be held accountable or responsible for having injured other(s) wrongfully (Dratler 24). The person whose negligence leads to the injury of another becomes a ‘tortfeasor’. The tortfeasor becomes subject to liability when they are deemed to be responsible- and must be held accountable- for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff(Stephen 73).The case of Paul and Sarah presents some dilemma. Nonetheless, one clear fact is that both (Paul and Sarah) are justified in wanting to sue. The question, however, is who can they sue.
Paul has two types of injuries to deal with. His car skids off the road when the wheel of his car flies off and hits a tree. The car, valued at €18,000, is in the end written off completely. He also suffers physical injuries, a broken arm, one for which he goes to the hospital and must take two weeks off work to recover.
Paul has grounds to sue, and he can sue not only Keith, the owner of the garage to which he takes his car, but also Duffy, the mechanic, whose very mistake leads to the problem.
David Owen explores the elements of negligence, which says total five: duty; breach; cause in fact; proximate cause; and harm. A number- if not all- of these are involved in this case.
Duty has to do with choices that people make, which can be deemed as proper or improper, the latter if they “breach preexisting obligation(s) to avoid… harm to others” (Owen 1675). Such obligations are not written, but should be a moral calling on the individual to consider the repercussions of their actions on others (Cane 17). In this respect, it is the obligation of both the Keith and Duffy to take socially responsible behavior in accordance with their jobs. However, as it turns out, Duffy is a member of the new MMA club, where he has taken many knocks to the head and because of which he now has bad memory. Keith is aware of this, or if not, then he should; it is his job to know. As the mechanic, Duffy is responsible for association responsible for people’s lives. The choices he- and Keith for that matter- make have a direct impact on people’s lives. It is of utmost importance that Duffy utilizes the full faculty of his senses. However, he is not, because of the MMA club in which he is a member. An accident like Paul’s, or even a worse one, has been one in waiting. It is, therefore, a big negligence: on the part of Duffy to take part in an activity with the potential to hurt his brain and, consequently, the lives of others at risk; and on the part of Keith for letting Duffy do this, or failing to know.
Breach has to do with the misconduct, improper act or omission itself (Owen 1676). As the mechanic, Duffy is directly responsible for the harm to Paul, both the physical and financial harm suffered. Duffy uses just one bolt instead of five as required. The negligence is that he fails to recheck his work and make sure that the job is done properly. Keith is also liable. Being the supervisor- we are not told about any other supervisor- Keith is expected to make sure Duffy has done the right thing, especially considering Duffy’s condition. One could say that Paul should also have checked to be sure the tire was properly fixed. But even if he had checked, it would not change the fact of negligence on the parts of Duffy and Keith.
Establishing a cause-and-effect relationship- i.e. cause of fact- is hard in many cases (Fabian 27). In this case, however, it is easier to establish this. Paul could be responsible for the accident. Besides, he was distracted, texting his boss while driving, albeit at the low speed of 20 mph. However, it is not the car skidding off the road that leads the wheel to come off, but the other way around. In other words, Duffy and Keith cannot seek relief in the element of proximate cause, i.e. a possible claim on the part of defendants that they could not have foreseen the accident. This accident can be directly attributed to the fact that only one bolt instead of the required five, and was only waiting to happen.
However, Duffy and Keith may only be liable to Paul’s physical harms. Harm- as a result of negligence- to nonphysical interests, such as pure economic loss and emotional harm also often do not qualify for full adjudication.
Sarah has also suffered losses of her own. However, unlike Paul, she has suffered no physical harm. Regardless, her loss understood from her point of view, is no less significant. The wheel that comes off Paul’s car breaks through the front window of her house. Also, the wheels land onto Sarah’s Faberge egg, which is priceless.
Sarah’s case poses perhaps a bigger dilemma because it may be a little hard to decide if she should sue Paul- for it is him directly involved in the accident- or whether she can sue Duffy and Keith, the two people- as established above- held responsible for the accident.
Indeed, Sarah can point to certain mistakes on Paul’s part, which may have led to the accident, and for which could sue him. Particularly, Paul was texting his boss while driving. The element of duty demands that Paul considers the potential impacts of his actions, such as driving through a small village while texting his boss, which means that he does not have all his attention on the road. However, that is beside the point here. It is not Paul’s actions per se that lead to the accident. It would be impossible to establish a cause-and-effect relationship that would make Paul the one responsible and accountable for the accident and, therefore, liable. Rather, Sarah’s loss is the consequence of Duffy and Keith’s negligence.
Even then, it is not necessarily obvious that Sarah can sue Duffy and Keith. In defining the maximum extent to which parties can be held responsible and accountable for damaging actions, the element of duty also looks to “balance the interests of certain classes of potential victims in security in certain types of harm… against the interests of certain classes of actors in freedom of action” (Richard 7). Such a balance of interests determines whether the case can be decided upon by the courts, or whether the case poses a ‘border problem’ and must, therefore, be passed to the juries. Also, this balance determines whether a negligence lawsuit is approved for full adjudication or whether it is ejected from the judicial system (Richard 7).
In other words, there are a number of negligence lawsuits that do not meet the criteria for full adjudication, and there are several of these. One of the conditions in which a negligence lawsuit does not meet a requirement for full adjudication- i.e. where a party may be relieved from liability for resulting harm or loss- is when harm or injury has been caused to a third party as a result of negligence of certain types by certain actors, such as professionals, manufacturers, social hosts, employers and probation officers. Others may include harm by landowners to trespassers and uninvited guests, etc. Most importantly, as noted above, harm- as a result of negligence- to nonphysical interests, such as pure economic loss and emotional harm also often do not qualify for full adjudication (Richard 8).
Sarah’s case involves all these issues. For one, unlike Paul, she is a third party. In the context of the accident, she is not aware of Duffy and Keith, and vice versa. All she knows about is Paul. Most importantly, her harm, unlike Paul’s is non-physical. She has only suffered emotional harm and a purely economic loss, two of the situations that normally do not meet the basic requirements for full adjudication.
These conditions relieve Duffy and Keith from liability for Sarah’s loss: she is a third party, who has suffered nonphysical harm/loss. The same conditions, especially the last two, also relieve Paul of liability for Sarah’s loss- although Paul is long free by virtue of not being the main cause of the accident.
- Cane, Peter. Responsibility in Law and Morality, Oxford: Hart, 2002. Web.
- Dratler, Jay, Jr. “Palsgraf, Principles of Tort Law, and the Persistent Need for Common-Law Judgment in IP Infringement Cases”. Akron Intellectual Property Journal, (2008): 23-42. Web, 22 March 2016. < http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu
- Fabian, John W. “Contingency, Immanence, and Inevitability in the Law of Accidents”. Journal of Tort Law, 2.1 (2007): 1-41. Web, 22 March 2016. < https://www.law.yale.edu/
- Owen, David G. “The Five Elements of Negligence”. Hofstra Law Review, 35.4 (2007): 1671-1686. Web, 22 March 2016. <http://law.hofstra.edu
- Richard, Wright W. “The Grounds and Extent of LegalResponsibility”.San Diego Law Review, 41 (2003). Web, 22 March 2016. <http://guweb2.gonzaga.edu
- Stephen, Perry R. Responsibility for Outcomes, Risk, and the Law of Torts, in Gerald Postema (ed.), Philosophy and the Law of Torts, Cambridge: Cambridge, 2001, 72-130. Web. < http://ebooks.cambridge.org/