This week there are two cases being heard in the High Court of Australia.
The first is Barclay v Penberthy, listed for hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday, 1 and 2 May 2012. This case arose out of an aircraft accident in Western Australia on 11 August 2003. Penberthy was the pilot of the aircraft, which had been chartered by Nautronix Holdings to conduct surveillance and aerial work in connection with marine technology it was developing. Two passengers died and three were injured: all were employees of Nautronix. At trial, it was held that the cause of the accident was a failure of an engine during takeoff, and the negligent handling of the aircraft in response to that failure. The engine failure was caused by a faulty sleeve bearing. The bearing was not the original bearing but a substitute that had been designed by Barclay, an aeronautical engineer. As a result of the loss of the death and injury to Nautronix’s employees, its capacity to develop and commercially exploit the marine technology was inhibited, leading to a claim by Nautronix for pure economic loss. At issue in the case is whether or not Penberthy and/or Barclay owed Nautronic a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent it from suffering pure economic loss. Determining that issue will involve an examination of the action by an employer for loss of services of its employees (per quod servitium amisit), and its interaction with the rule on Baker v Bolton (which held that at common law the death of a person causes solely emotional and pure economic loss to their dependants, neither of which sounds in damages – this case resulted in the enactment of Lord Campbell’s Act).
The second case is Burns v The Queen, to be heard on Thursday and Friday, 3 and 4 May 2012. This is an appeal from the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal which upheld the appellant’s conviction on a charge of manslaughter in circumstances where she and her husband had either supplied methadone by injection to the deceased (constituting manslaughter by unlawful and dangerous act), or they owed a duty of care to the deceased but failed to render assistance to the deceased when he became ill as a result of the effects of the methadone (constituting manslaughter by criminal negligence), or both.
As usual, the case names link to the High Court's webpage where you will find copies of the written submissions and links to relevant transcripts etc.