Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co (1970)

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The case of Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co (1970) concerns the decision on whether a person or a body can be liable for a third party’s action if that party was under the supervision or control of such person or body. The case is also relevant because it further clarified the “neighbour principle” and its application.

Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Duty of care – Negligence

Main arguments in this case: Can a person or body be responsible for a third party’s action?

The fact of the case: In September 1962, seven borstal boys who were under the control of three employees of the Home Office, escaped, then stole a yacht, which collided with another yacht.  The yacht owners brought the proceedings against the Home Office for the damage to their property (the yacht) in negligence.

The main issue was if the Home Office was liable for an action that a third party had committed; in other words whether the Home Office owed a duty of care to the claimant.

At the first hearing the decision was held in favour of the claimants and the Home Office was said to have owed a duty of care to them (the claimants). The Home Office appealed against the decision and argued that it could not have been liable for the actions of a third party, and that for policy reasons (opening the floodgates of cases), it should not be held liable. The Court of Appeal held in favour of the Home Office and it accepted that for policy reasons it should not have been held accountable for the damage. The claimants appealed against the decision.

The House of Lords found for the Dorset Yacht Co Ltd (the claimants) and that the Home Office was liable for the damage caused to the property of the claimants. In his judgement Lord Reid said that the neighbour principle that evolved in Donoghue v Stevenson (1932) should apply in new cases (the Dorset case was unique in a way that there was no precedent or similarities in prior cases that resembled to the facts of this case i. e., that the defendant was being liable for the action of a third party) unless there was a reason not to.

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