Chapman v Hearse [1961] HCA 46 | 8 August 1961

ON 8 AUGUST 1961, the High Court of Australia delivered Chapman v Hearse [1961] HCA 46; (1961) 106 CLR 112 (8 August 1961).

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/HCA/1961/46.html

Chapman negligently drove his vehicle causing it to collide with another vehicle and overturn. Chapman was ejected from his vehicle and came to rest unconscious on the roadway. Dr Cherry came to Chapman’s assistance but was struck and fatally injured by a vehicle driven by Hearse who had negligently failed to see him.

The executor or the estate of Dr Cherry sued Hearse in the Supreme Court of South Australia for damages arising from the doctor’s death.

The Chief Justice of the South Australian Supreme Court found Hearse to be liable, ordering him to pay damages but also ordered that Chapman should contribute one quarter of that sum.

Chapman appealed to the South Australian Court of Appeal, who dismissed the appeal.

Chapman appealed against the decision in the High Court, arguing that (1) Chapman owed Dr Cherry no duty of care as it was not reasonably foreseeable (2) Dr Cherry’s death was caused solely by the negligence of Hearse and (3) the damage was to remote in any case.

The High Court dismissed the appeal. On the questions of duty and remoteness, the High Court held that Chapman did owe Dr Cherry a duty of care as it was “sufficient in the circumstances of this case to ask whether a consequence of the same general character as that which followed was reasonably foreseeable as one not unlikely to follow a collision between two vehicles on a dark wet night upon a busy highway”. In essence, the court held that one is liable for all damage which is of the same general nature as that which could be reasonably foreseen.

On the question of causation, the court held that a wrongful intervening act does not of itself break the chain of causation as long as the intervening act was reasonably foreseeable.

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