What breaks the Chain of Causation?

9th May 2017

A sad but interesting case was reported recently which provided a very up to date example of the principle of novus actus interveniens (a new intervening act) in action: Read article

The tragic circumstances were that the deceased , Miss Machin, was attacked at home by her neighbours and was left with fatal injuries. She was attended upon by paramedics who failed to arrange for a referral to hospital and whilst she did subsequently attended hospital she was discharged. The hospital failed to diagnose internal bleeding which continued to progress and ultimately lead to the deceased’s death.

Whilst it is not known whether the Hospital actions were investigated, this case raises important issues of causation. The initial violent act set in motion the chain of events which caused the death but if there was evidence of gross negligence on the part of the hospital in failing to diagnose and treat the injuries then this would be sufficient to transfer civil liability onto the hospital.

Whilst this was a criminal case and the extent of any discussion of the Hospital’s actions is not clear it would seem that in this instance, the Court was satisfied that the death was caused by the initial act and the chain of causation was not broken.

It’s very similar to the classic Smith, R v [1959] that is often mentioned when discussing chain of causation matters.

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