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Hughes v Lord Advocate – 1963

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07/03/18 Cases Reference this

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Hughes v Lord Advocate [1963] AC 837

Remoteness of damage in tort law; that the kind of damage must be foreseeable, rather than the specific damage that actually occurred.


Workmen employed by the defendant had been working on a manhole cover, and then proceeded to take a break, leaving the hole encased in a tent with lights left nearby to make the area visible to oncoming vehicles. Two young boys, the claimants, encountered the uncovered and unattended man hole and proceeded to climb down to see inside of it, bringing with them one of the paraffin lamps left out by the workmen. The lamp was subsequently dropped and caused a significant explosion which left both of the boys with extensive injuries from the fire. The defendant submitted that such an action would have caused this outcome was deemed unforeseeable.


Whether a party can be found liable for injuries that could not have been specifically envisaged as resulting from their actions, even where the kind of injury was a foreseeable consequence. 


Here the House of Lords found for the claimants, and held that whilst it was indeed reasonably unforeseeable that a dropped lamp in the manhole would have resulted in an explosion of the size that occurred, this did not alter the fact that it was reasonably foreseeable that a person may have burnt themselves on the unattended paraffin lamps. The emphasis here was placed on the foreseeability of the kind of damage rather than the specific actual damage as this was considered too high a standard.

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