Medlin v State Government Insurance Commission [1995] HCA 5 | 16 February 1995

ON THIS DAY IN 1995, the High Court of Australia delivered Medlin v State Government Insurance Commission [1995] HCA 5; (1995) 182 CLR 1; (1995) 127 ALR 180 (1995) Aust Torts Reports 81-322 (16 February 1995).

Per Deane, Dawson, Toohey and Gaudron JJ said at [6]:

“For the purposes of the law of negligence, the question whether the requisite causal connexion exists between a particular breach of duty and particular loss or damage is essentially one of fact to be resolved, on the probabilities, as a matter of commonsense and experience. And that remains so in a case such as the present where the question of the existence of the requisite causal connexion is complicated by the intervention of some act or decision of the plaintiff …which constitutes a more immediate cause of the loss or damage. … If, in such a case, it can be seen that the necessary causal connexion would exist if the intervening act or decision be disregarded, the question of causation may often be conveniently expressed in terms of whether the intrusion of that act or decision has had the effect of breaking the chain of causation which would otherwise have existed between the breach of duty and the particular loss or damage. The ultimate question must, however, always be whether, notwithstanding the intervention of the subsequent decision, the defendant’s wrongful act or omission is, as between the plaintiff and the defendant and as a matter of commonsense and experience, properly to be seen as having caused the relevant loss or damage. Indeed, in some cases, it may be potentially misleading to pose the question of causation in terms of whether an intervening act or decision has interrupted or broken a chain of causation which would otherwise have existed. An example of such a case is where the negligent act or omission was itself a direct or indirect contributing cause of the intervening act or decision.”

Per McHugh J at [20]:

“However, the ultimate question is whether, as a matter of common sense, the financial loss that the plaintiff has suffered was caused by the plaintiff’s act in resigning his office rather than by the defendant’s negligence.”

Per McHugh J at [23]:

“The plaintiff’s complaints of pain and fatigue, his decreasing confidence in his own abilities, his belief that he was no longer teaching as well as he was before the accident and his inability to find time for research combine to make a strong case for concluding that his early retirement was not unreasonable. A defendant cannot reasonably require a plaintiff to remain in employment for the purpose of reducing the damages that the defendant would otherwise have to pay if to do so would interfere with the plaintiff’s reasonable enjoyment of life. The doctrine of mitigation of loss was not intended to turn injured plaintiffs into economic slaves.”



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