McKew v Holland and Hannan and Cubitts: HL 26 Nov 1969

The appellant had been injured in the course of his employment for which the respondents were liable. Sometimes his left leg would gave way beneath him. He was descending a steep staircase without a handrail when the leg collapsed and he tried to jump down the stairs so that he would land in a standing position rather than falling over down the stairs. He suffered a severe fracture of his ankle.
Held: Lord Reid: ‘In my view the law is clear. If a man is injured in such a way that his leg may give way at any moment he must act reasonably and carefully. It is quite possible that in spite of all reasonable care his leg may give way in circumstances such that as a result he sustains further injury. Then that second injury was caused by his disability which in turn was caused by the defender’s fault. But if the injured man acts unreasonably he cannot hold the defender liable for injury caused by his own unreasonable conduct. His unreasonable conduct is novus actus interveniens. The chain of causation has been broken and what follows must be regarded as caused by his own conduct and not by the defender’s fault or the disability caused by it. Or one may say that unreasonable conduct of the pursuer and what follows from it is not the natural and probable result of the original fault of the defender or of the ensuing disability. I do not think that foreseeability comes into this. A defender is not liable for a consequence of a kind which is not foreseeable. But it does not follow that he is liable for every consequence which a reasonable man could foresee. What can be foreseen depends almost entirely on the facts of the case, and it is often easy to foresee unreasonable conduct or some other nouvs actus interveniens as being quite likely. But that does not mean that the defender must pay for damage caused by the nouvs actus. It only leads to trouble that if one tries to graft on to the concept of foreseeability some rule of law to the effect that a wrongdoer is not bound to foresee something which in fact he could readily foresee as quite likely to happen. For it is not at all unlikely or unforeseeable that an active man who has suffered such a disability will take some quite unreasonable risk. But if he does he cannot hold the defender liable for the consequences.
So in my view the question here is whether the second accident was caused by the appellant doing something unreasonable.’
Lord Reid
[1969] 3 All ER 1621, [1969] UKHL 9, [1969] UKHL 12
Bailii, Bailii
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedCorr v IBC Vehicles Ltd CA 31-Mar-2006
corr_ibcCA2006
The deceased had suffered a head injury whilst working for the defendant. In addition to severe physical consequences he suffered post-traumatic stress, became more and more depressed, and then committed suicide six years later. The claimant . .
CitedSpencer v Wincanton Holdings Ltd (Wincanton Logistics Ltd) CA 21-Dec-2009
The claimant suffered injury for which he sought compensation from his employers. He later had to have his leg amputated as a consequence, but then through his own inadvertence suffered further injury to his other leg and a complete loss of . .
CitedSpencer v Wincanton Holdings Ltd (Wincanton Logistics Ltd) CA 21-Dec-2009
The claimant suffered injury for which he sought compensation from his employers. He later had to have his leg amputated as a consequence, but then through his own inadvertence suffered further injury to his other leg and a complete loss of . .

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Updated: 28 January 2021; Ref: scu.240041