Dooley v Cammell Laird [1971] 1 Lloyd's Rep 271



The claimant (C) was a crane operator working for the defendant (D). C was loading cargo from a quay onto a ship when the rope carrying the load snapped. The load fell into the hold of the ship, where C knew other workers were standing. Nobody was injured, though C suffered nervous shock as a result of what seeing what he believed to be the death or serious injury of some of his co-workers. The trauma of the event aggravated C’s pre-existing neurasthenia and, as a result, he could not return to work as a crane operator. C brought an action in negligence against D, seeking damages for psychiatric injury.


Whether D owed a duty of care to take reasonable steps in safeguarding their employees from the risk of nervous injury, as well as physical injury.


The application for a declaration was dismissed. Parental rights, as such, did not exist, except insofar as necessary to safeguard the best interests of a minor. In some circumstances, a minor would be able to give consent in their own right, without the knowledge or approval of their parents. The test proposed by Lord Scarman posits that a minor will be able to consent to treatment if they demonstrate “sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is proposed” ([1986] AC 112, 187[D]). The test is now often referred to as ‘Gillick competence’ and is an integral aspect of medical and family law.