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

Facts:

Plaintiff’s husband was a galvanizer. While operating a machine, a piece of molten metal struck and burned his lower lip. He treated it and thought nothing of it, but the wound ended up getting larger. He went to hospital, was notified that he had cancer. Despite treatment, he died of cancer.

At trial:
** Found that the defendants were negligent, that there had been no contributory negligence
** Burn promoted the cancer in tissues which already had a pre-malignant condition as a result of the employee’s exposure to tar and tar vapours

Issue(s):

Does liability from negligence extend to the unforeseeable results of the injury caused, regardless of pre-existing condition?
** Is there a finding of causation when negligence results in an injury partly because of a pre-existing condition?

Ratio:

Defendants are liable for damages when it is reasonably foreseeable that an injury would occur, regardless of what results from the injury.
** It is the injury, not the damage that must be reasonably foreseeable.

Analysis:

Consider Wagon Mound No. 1:
** Assuming negligence proven, assuming the burn caused in whole or in part the cancer and death, the plaintiff is entitled to recover. But, Wagon Mound did not have thin skull cases in mind. The tortfeasor must take victim as he finds him

The test is not whether the defendant could reasonably have foreseen that a burn would cause cancer and that man would die
** The question is whether they could reasonably foresee the type of injury suffered (ie burn)
** The amount of damage suffered as a result of a burn depends on characteristics of victim
** Therefore, the defendants are liable for the damages to plaintiff.

Holding:

Defendants are liable.


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