Smith v Leech Brain & Co Ltd [1962] 2 QB 405

Law of Tort – Foreseeability – Negligence – Damages – Remoteness of Damage – Eggshell Skull Rule - Causation


The complainant was employed as a galvaniser of steel for the defendants, Leech Brain & Co Ltd. He had been working and operating a machine in the workplace, when a piece of molten metal burnt his lip, after he stepped out from behind the protective shield. Although the burn was treated, he developed cancer and died three years later. The complainant had a pre-cancerous condition, before the burn had taken place. When he died, his widow brought a claim against Leech Brain & Co Ltd under the Fatal Accidents Act.


The issues in this case concerned whether the employers could be liable for the full extent of the burn and cancer that had developed as a result or would a person’s predispositions matter in the award of damages.


The defendants were held to be negligent and liable for damages to the complainant. The complainant burnt his lip as a result of the defendant’s negligence in the workplace. The employers are liable for all of the consequences of their negligence; thus, liable for the employee’s death. His predisposition to cancer did not matter, nor did the results of the injury. The question of liability was whether the defendant could reasonable foresee the injury. Lord Parker stated that the eggshell skull rule and taking the victim as you find them has always been the established law and this was not affected by the ruling in the Wagon Mound case.