Stuart v Kirkland-Veenstra [2009] HCA 15 | 22 April 2009

Stuart v Kirkland-Veenstra [2009] HCA 15 (22 April 2009).

“TORTS – Negligence – Duty of care – Where Mental Health Act 1986 (Vic), s 10 empowered police to apprehend person who “appears to be mentally ill” if reasonable grounds for believing that person had recently attempted suicide or likely to do so – Where police came upon man who appeared to have been contemplating suicide but showed no sign of mental illness – Interaction of common law and relationship established by s 10 – Whether duty of care to prevent foreseeable harm to man at own hand – Relevance of conditions engaging exercise of statutory power – Relevance of fact that duty alleged is duty to protect person from self-harm – Relevance of general rule against duty to rescue – Relevance of vulnerability of particular class of persons – Relevance of control over source of risk to persons.

TORTS – Negligence – Duty of care – Where duty alleged to arise in context of power conferred by Mental Health Act 1986, s 10 – Whether preconditions to existence of power established on facts – Whether common law duty could exist in absence of relevant power.

TORTS – Breach of statutory duty – Relevance as alternative to action alleging breach of common law duty of care – Principles relevant to determining legislative intention that cause of action be available – Relevance of legislative provision for special measures to protect identifiable class of persons or property – Whether existence of discretion to exercise power inconsistent with existence of statutory duty.

STATUTES – Interpretation – Whether person who has attempted suicide to be equated with person “mentally ill” – Relationship between attempted suicide and mental illness – Understanding at common law of relationship between suicide and mental illness.

WORDS AND PRRASES – “mentally ill”.

Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), ss 457, 463B.
Mental Health Act 1986 (Vic), ss 3, 8, 10.
Wrongs Act 1958 (Vic), Pt III.”

The court decided that two police officers did not owe a duty of care to a man who took his life; nor to his surviving spouse. Earlier in the day of the deceased’s death the officers had observed an apparent suicide attempt by the deceased but were satisfied that he sounded rational and was responsive to their questions.

The law does not create an obligation to rescue another from harm and in this case there were no special features outside of the general rule.

As the police officers had not formed the view that the deceased was mentally ill, they had no power to apprehend him and have him assessed under the Mental Health Act.


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