PI Practitioner – each issue a particular topic is highlighted, citing some of the useful cases and other materials in that area


The rescue as novus actus interveniens – liability of the original tortfeasor

• Knightly v Johns & Ors [1982] 1 WLR 349 – a policeman (D3) was called to the scene of an accident in a tunnel, which had been caused by negligent driving of D1. He realised that he had not closed the mouth of the tunnel and sent two colleagues (one of them C) back on motorbikes to do so. They rode on the wrong side of the road around a blind bend and were hit by a car being driven by D2. C sued Ds 1 – 3 and the Chief Constable (D4).

HELD – D1 and D2 were not liable. D1’s driving had been negligent but there was a break in the chain of causation between that negligence and the injury to C. That break was D3 having sent C and his colleague back to close the mouth of the tunnel.

• In McFarlane v EE Caledonia [1994] 2 All ER 1 – Stuart-Smith LJ gave judgment in a case concerning psychiatric injury to people on rescue boats who observed victims of the Piper Alpha disaster meet their death. At 10 – 11 he held that –
‘A rescuer is entitled to put his own safety at risk, but not that of others, unless they too consent to be part of the rescue… If [the captain of the rescue vessel] had negligently and in breach of his duty taken the vessel into a position of danger where those on board were injured or reasonably feared injury this would be a novus actus interveniens and not something for which the defendants would be liable.
…A reasonable man in the position of the defendant should foresee that if his negligence caused such a catastrophic emergency, those in charge of rescue vessels may not be able to judge to a nicety exactly how near it is safe to bring their vessels.’


According to Clerk & Lindsell (20th Edn.) at 8-32, ‘An error of judgment in organising an emergency rescue will rarely amount the negligence’.

March 4, 2012 · Editorial Team · Comments Closed
Posted in: Cases