Sutherland Shire Council v Heyman: 4 Jul 1985

(High Court of Australia) The court considered a possible extension of the law of negligence.
Brennan J said: ‘the law should develop novel categories of negligence incrementally and by analogy with established categories. ‘
Dean J said: ‘The requirement of proximity is directed to the relationship between the parties in so far as it is relevant to the allegedly negligent act or omission of the defendant and the loss or injury sustained by the plaintiff. It involves the notion of nearness or closeness and embraces physical proximity (in the sense of space and time) between the person or property of the plaintiff and the person or property of the defendant, circumstantial proximity such as an over riding relationship of employer and employee or of a professional man and his client and what may (perhaps loosely) be referred to as causal proximity in the sense of the closeness or directness of the causal connection or relationship between the particular act or course of conduct and the loss and injury sustained. It may reflect an assumption by one party of a responsibility to take care to avoid or prevent injury, loss or damage to the person or property of another or reliance by one party upon such care being taken by the other in circumstances where the other party knew or ought to have known of that reliance. Both the identity and the relative importance of the factors which are determinative of an issue of proximity are likely to vary in different categories of case. That does not mean that there is scope for decision by reference to idiosyncratic notions of justice or morality or that it is a proper approach to treat the requirement of proximity as a question of fact to be resolved merely by reference to the relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant in the particular circumstances. The requirement of a relationship of proximity serves as a touchstone and control of the categories of case in which the common law will adjudge that a duty of care is owed. Given the general circumstances of a case in a new or developing area of the law of negligence, the question what (if any) combination or combinations of factors will satisfy the requirement of proximity is a question of law to be resolved by the processes of legal reasoning, induction and deduction. On the other hand the identification of the content of that requirement in such an area should not be either ostensibly or actually divorced from notions of what is ‘fair and reasonable’ . . or from the considerations of public policy which underlie and enlighten the existence and content of the requirement.’
Mason J said: ‘although a public authority may be under a public duty, enforceable by mandamus, to give proper consideration to the question whether it should exercise a power, this duty cannot be equated with, or regarded as a foundation for imposing, a duty of care on the public authority in relation to the exercise of the power. Mandamus will compel proper consideration of the authority of its discretion, but that is all.’
Brennan J pointed out that the statutory duty of a local authority to approve building plans could not be made the basis of a general duty to protect a subsequent purchaser against even foreseeable problems in the course of construction: ‘It is impermissible to postulate a duty of care to avoid one kind of damage – say, personal injury – and, finding the defendant guilty of failing to discharge that duty, to hold him liable for the damage actually suffered that is of another and independent kind – say, economic loss. Not only may the respective duties differ in what is required to discharge them; the duties may be owed to different persons or classes of persons. That is not to say that a plaintiff who suffers damage of some kind will succeed or fail in an action to recover damages according to his classification of the damage he suffered. The question is always whether the defendant was under a duty to avoid or prevent that damage, but the actual nature of the damage suffered is relevant to the existence and extent of any duty to avoid or prevent it.’

Brennan J, Dean J, Mason J
[1985] 50 ALR 1, (1985) 157 CLR 424
Cited by:
ApprovedStovin v Wise, Norfolk County Council (Third Party) HL 24-Jul-1996
Statutory Duty Does Not Create Common Law Duty
The mere existence of statutory power to remedy a defect cannot of itself create a duty of care to do so. A highway authority need not have a duty of care to highway users because of its duty to maintain the highway. The two stage test ‘involves . .
CitedBinod Sutradhar v Natural Environment Research Council CA 20-Feb-2004
The defendant council had carried out research into a water supply in India in the 1980s. The claimant drank the water, and claimed damages for having consumed arsenic in it.
Held: There is a close link between the tests in law for proximity . .
CitedGorringe v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council HL 1-Apr-2004
Statutory Duty Not Extended by Common Law
The claimant sought damages after a road accident. The driver came over the crest of a hill and hit a bus. The road was not marked with any warning as to the need to slow down.
Held: The claim failed. The duty could not be extended to include . .
AdoptedCaparo Industries Plc v Dickman and others HL 8-Feb-1990
Limitation of Loss from Negligent Mis-statement
The plaintiffs sought damages from accountants for negligence. They had acquired shares in a target company and, relying upon the published and audited accounts which overstated the company’s earnings, they purchased further shares.
Held: The . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
CitedHM Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc HL 21-Jun-2006
The claimant had served an asset freezing order on the bank in respect of one of its customers. The bank paid out on a cheque inadvertently as to the order. The Commissioners claimed against the bank in negligence. The bank denied any duty of care. . .
CitedGlaister and Others v Appelby-In-Westmorland Town Council CA 9-Dec-2009
The claimant was injured when at a horse fair. A loose horse kicked him causing injury. They claimed in negligence against the council for licensing the fair without ensuring that public liability insurance. The Council now appealed agaiinst a . .
CitedMichael and Others v The Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Another SC 28-Jan-2015
The claimants asserted negligence in the defendant in failing to provide an adequate response to an emergency call, leading, they said to the death of their daughter at the hands of her violent partner. They claimed also under the 1998 Act. The . .
CitedBPE Solicitors and Another v Hughes-Holland (In Substitution for Gabriel) SC 22-Mar-2017
The court was asked what damages are recoverable in a case where (i) but for the negligence of a professional adviser his client would not have embarked on some course of action, but (ii) part or all of the loss which he suffered by doing so arose . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Damages

Updated: 21 December 2021; Ref: scu.194628