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Western University
Philosophy 2080
James Hildebrand

Class 3 Answers ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FOR CLASS 3 1. What is the difference between the reasons of Lord Reid and Lord Wilberforce in Mghee v National Coal Board? Lord Reid says that if a plaintiff can prove there is a material increase in risk, due to the negligent conduct of the defendant, and the injury does occur, then this will be treated as if the plaintiff had proved causation. Lord Reid allows an inference of fact if risk and injury are proved. Reid also rejects any difference between material contribution and material increase in the risk of injury. Lord Wilberforce says if a plaintiff proves a material risk of injury due to the negligent conduct of the defendant, and the injury does occur, then there will be a presumption of causation that can then be rebutted by the defendant proving it did not cause the injury. It is hard to say how this would play itself out in reality, it seems that the plaintiff has proved his case and wins in Lord Reid’s analysis, with no ability in the defendant to prove any lack of causation. But if Lord Wilberforce is correct, the burden of proof becomes the defendant’s, with the ability to prove lack of causation. In reality is appears that the practical effect of each Law Lord’s decision is the same. These principles apply only if the causation issue is beyond empirical proof. 2. How is the Mghee case different from the previous case Bonnington Castings? In the Bonnington Castings case, there were two known material causes. So we know each factor contributed to the injury. In that kind of case, the source of each contributing cause will be liable for the injury. Think about a person being shot four times. The evidence establishes that each bullet contributed to the death of the victim. In that case, each bullet is a material contribution to the injury. InBonnington we have two known causes, and an apportioning between the causes. In Mghee we don’t know exactly what causes dermatitis, so we can’t tell if there is a material contribution, we can only tell if there is an increase in the risk. There is no precise empirical causative link. 3. Does this case resolve the issue of legal causation in the modern context of negligence law? I would say probably not. I don’t know if Lord Wilberforce reasons have been commonly applied in Canada, but my suspicion is that we have very high expectations of technology to give us a precise cause, and if none is available, it is tempting to think the plaintiff has not met its onus. I would think advances in technology raise our expectations, and raise the standards for plaintiffs to prove their cases. Not surprisingly, American lawyers have complained that juries who have watched the television series “CSI” often view the evidence presented as falling far short of the unrealistically high standards portrayed on this series. 4. Can you find a reference in previous cases we have read that deals with the issue of remoteness of loss? Two that come to mind: M’Alister (or Donahue) v Stevenson. There was a concern expressed in this case that using such an open-ended concept as the foreseeable plaintiff might cause a floodgate of liability. The qualifying or limiting factor should be “proximity”, and this referred to causal proximity or closeness. Another way of saying this would be to say the loss should not be too remote from the conduct that has allegedly been its cause. Palsgraph v Long Island Railway. This dissenting opinion conceded that foreseeability should have some function in tort law, and it should be used to determine where to stop the
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