Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Strong v Woolworths Ltd [2012] HCA 5

I have previously said that the judgment in Strong v Woolworths Ltd [2012] HCA 5, which the High Court of Australia delivered today, would either be an important case about the law of causation in negligence cases following the enactment of the Civil Liability Act 2002, or a mundane fizzer about what inferences can be drawn as to whether or not an adequate cleaning system would have prevented the plaintiff’s crutches from slipping on a potato chip on the floor of a shopping centre.
Unfortunately it was the latter.  None of the judges in the majority (French CJ, Gummow, Crennan or Bell JJ) or in dissent (Heydon J – again) had anything much to say in relation to various issues that arise under the Civil Liability Act 2002.
Specifically, the Court declined to deal with the question of whether or not the statutory formulation of causation may produce a different conclusion to the conclusion yielded by applying the common law. 
Nor did it address questions of how cases of “causal over-determination” are to be accommodated under the statutory provision, although the majority seem to have subtly suggested that the authors of the Ipp Report (upon whose recommendations the present statutory causation formulation is based) may have misunderstood the House of Lords decision in Bonnington Castings Ltd v Wardlaw.
Apart from an interesting discussion by Heydon J (unaffected by the fact that his Honour dissented in the result) about the different meanings of the expression “evidential burden” (at [50]-[64]) there is really nothing of interest at all in the judgment.

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