McKew v Holland & Hannen & Cubitts (Scotland) Ltd. [1969] 3 All ER 1621

Law of Tort – Damages – Chain of Causation – Novus Actus Interveniens – Reasonable Care - Foreseeability


In the course of his employment, the complainant had suffered injuries, which meant his left leg could give way underneath him. A few days after the incident and while in his recovery, the complainant tried to come down a set of steep steps, which did not have a handrail. His injured leg gave way beneath him and he attempted to jump the remaining 10 steps. However, he fell down the stairs and suffered injury. He severely fractured his ankle and was left with a disability.


While the defendant accepted liability for the leg injury resulting from the accident at work, the issue in this case concerned the ankle fracture sustained in the second incident. The defendant disputed liability for the act by the complainant. The court must answer whether this was a new intervening act that would break the chain of causation and whether damages were recoverable for the complainant’s ankle injury.


While the employer was negligent and liable for the initial injury, the new action by the complainant was a novus actus interveniens that broke the chain of causation. The complainant had taken an unreasonable risk that could not be foreseen and the defendant could not be liable for the ankle injury. Lord Reid made it clear that an injured person should act reasonably and carefully in his recovery. Trying to descend steep steps unaided with the possible of his leg giving way was an example of unreasonable behaviour.