Daborn v Bath Tramways Motor Co Ltd  is one of the early cases in which the relevance of social utility was discussed. Given below are the case details.
- Case name & citation: Daborn v Bath Tramways Motor Co Ltd  2 All E.R. 333
- Year of the case: 1946
- The learned judge: Asquith LJ
- Area of law: Negligence; duty of care
Facts of the case (Daborn v Bath Tramways)
During wartime, the plaintiff was the driver of an ambulance that had a left-hand drive. There was one driving mirror on the left side of the vehicle that was attached to the windscreen. Because the rear of the ambulance was completely closed off, the plaintiff was unable to see anything which was immediately behind her. A large cautionary notice was affixed to the back of the ambulance. It read: “Caution – Left-hand drive – No signals.”
The plaintiff was completely unaware that an omnibus was close behind her and that the driver of the omnibus was attempting to pass her. After indicating with her left hand that she intended to turn right, the plaintiff started turning, at which point the omnibus struck into the ambulance. The ambulance overturned and the plaintiff sustained serious injuries.
She filed a negligence lawsuit against the bus driver as well as the employers he worked for. The defendants argued that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent because she did not check to see if there was a vehicle following her before making the right turn.
Is the social utility of the activity relevant in determining claims of negligence?
Judgment of the Court in Daborn v Bath Tramways
It was determined that the omnibus driver had been negligent. However, the court decided that there was no contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff in this case.
The court found that due to the fact that there was a war going on at the time, it was necessary for many extremely important operations to be carried out using motor vehicles with left-hand drives because there were no other vehicles available. Even though there was a risk involved and the likelihood of harm appeared to be quite high, the utility of what was being done was also extremely high, so it was taken into consideration. It was wartime and the ambulance was providing an important service towards society.
Therefore, the court said: when determining whether or not reasonable care has been exercised, one must weigh the risk against the consequences of not taking that risk, and in this case, this calculation appears to work out in favour of the plaintiff.
Quotes from the case
“In determining whether a party is negligent, the standard of reasonable care is that which is reasonably to be demanded in the circumstances. A relevant circumstance to take into account may be the importance of the end to be served by behaving in this way or in that. As has often been pointed out, if all the trains in this country were restricted to a speed of 5 miles an hour, there would be fewer accidents, but our national life would be intolerably slowed down. The purpose to be served, if sufficiently important, justifies the assumption of abnormal risk.”
The observations made in Daborn v Bath Tramways Motor Co Ltd were reiterated in Watt v Hertfordshire County Council , which demonstrates once more that social utility is a relevant consideration in the analysis of breach of duty.
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