A recent Scottish court case, Morrison -v- Oakden [2021], highlighted the issue of foreseeability in relation to a claim for a breach of duty care. Associate Solicitor in our Dispute Resolution department, Richard Woodward, provides an overview of the case and its outcome.

Breach of duty of care

In claims for a breach of duty of care, a claimant must show that (a) the defendant owed them a duty of care; (b) they breached such a duty; and (c) there was a causal link between the damage they suffered and that breach. That all seems very straightforward. However, in practice, establishing that causal link can be pretty difficult.

The case

In a recent Scottish case, Morrison -v- Oakden [2021] CSOH 96, the claimant (or pursuer, as is the Scottish term) alleged that her employer had breached her duty of care when she was asked to ride a horse that reared and caused her serious injury.

The claimant was a stable hand and had been instructed to take a horse, which was returning from injury itself, for exercise around the adjoining land. Earlier that day, the horse had been ridden by its owner and the defendant had advised the claimant not to follow the same track as the horse had been a little excitable. The claimant did take a different route but, upon dismount, the horse reared and latterly fell on top of the claimant.

The claimant brought a claim against the defendant employer alleging that the defendant had been aware that the horse may have misbehaved and as such, by requiring the claimant to exercise the horse, she had breached her duty of care. The claimant further contended that it was reasonably foreseeably that, in such circumstances, the horse would rear, and the claimant could be hurt.

The defendant denied this. There were no significant issues reported by the owner on the previous run, and the suggestion of a different route was an adequate attempt to prevent the horse getting excitable again. Further, the defendant said, the claimant was an experienced horse handler and should be able to foresee any issues.

Foreseeability

The court decided that it was not reasonably foreseeable for the defendant to believe that the events that did happen, would have happened and therefore there was no breach of duty. The horse was generally good natured, and the claimant was experienced with horses. The judge rejected the claimant’s expert evidence that the horse was more likely than not to have misbehaved having been ridden twice that day, on the basis that the opinion was not supported by research.

The outcome of this case may have been different if the claimant had not been an experienced rider, and there had been sufficient evidence to show that the horse would misbehave if taken out a second time that day. However, whilst the injuries suffered by the claimant were unfortunate, the court did not hold that she had proven her injuries were reasonably foreseeable as a result of her employer’s request.

If you require assistance with a breach of duty of care or professional negligence claim, the Bray & Bray Dispute Resolution team is here to help. Contact us today.