R v Hayward (1908) 21 Cox CC 692

Unlawful Act Manslaughter - Causation – Egg Shell Skull Rule – Pre-Existing Medical Condition.


A husband and wife had an argument that led to the husband chasing his wife out into the street.  The wife collapsed during this altercation and died.  Whist the husband did not physically touch her, he did shout threats at her.  The wife was found to have been suffering from an abnormality of the thyroid gland that neither was aware of that meant that fright or shock could cause death if combined with physical exertion.  The husband was charged with manslaughter.


Did the wife’s medical condition mean that the husband’s action caused the wife’s death or did the the wife’s condition break the chain of causation.


The husband was found guilty of manslaughter.  No actual proof of violence was necessary as long as the defendant’s unlawful act, which was the threat of violence, caused her fright leading to her death.  The criminal law acknowledges that an assailant must take their victim as they find them.  The victim’s state of health did not affect the question of whether or not the defendant’s unlawful act accelerated the victim’s death.   It was irrelevant to the issue of causation whether or not the fright was one which would have caused the effect it did on a reasonable person as it did on one of exceptional timidity.  Provided the defendant had the requiste mens rea the victim’s pre-existing medical condition did not break the chain of causation.  This is sometimes known as the ‘egg-shell skull’ rule.