Case name & citation: Mullin v Richards  1 WLR 1304;  1 ALL ER 920
- Court and jurisdiction: Court of Appeal (Civil Division), England and Wales
- Decided on: 06 November 1997
- The bench of judges: Lady Justice Butler-Sloss, Lord Justice Hutchison, Sir John Vinelott
- Area of law: Negligence; Foreseeability; Standard of care; Duty of care
This is a tort law case on issues of negligence and foreseeability of risk.
Would it be reasonable to expect a young teen to have anticipated the risk of danger?
Should age and other circumstances be considered when determining the standard of care owed in a negligence claim?
The case revolves around these questions.
What happened in Mullin v Richards?
Two fifteen-year-old school friends, Teresa Mullin and Heidi Richards, were playing a game of sword fight with plastic rulers. Mock fighting with rulers was a very common game at school and no one had ever warned them of the dangers associated with it.
While fighting, one of the rulers snapped and a piece of it went into Teresa’s eye, causing significant damage to the eye. Teresa brought legal action against Heidi and the trial judge found Heidi liable for the injury.
The case was appealed.
The Court of Appeal held that Heidi was not negligent. She was not in breach of the duty of care she owed to the claimant.
The Court took into consideration the fact that Heidi was only fifteen years old and that in the circumstances, she couldn’t have reasonably foreseen that the game would result in harm.
Games of such kind were played quite frequently at the school and were not prohibited. Given the circumstances, she had no reason to believe that the game they were playing was dangerous.
The Court followed the approach taken in McHale v Watson (1966).
The question for the judge was not whether an ordinary, prudent, and reasonable adult would have recognized the risk but rather whether an ordinary, prudent, and reasonable 15-year-old schoolgirl in the defendant’s situation would have realized the risk of injury.
Hence, she was not liable.
“This was in truth nothing more than a schoolgirls’ game such as on the evidence was commonplace in this school and there was, I would hold, no justification for attributing to the participants the foresight of any significant risk of the likelihood of injury.”
(As per Hutchinson L.J. at p.1311)
The legal principle in Mullin v Richards
For establishing a tort of negligence, it is important to prove that a duty of care was owed by the defendant and that it was breached. This is judged on the basis of how a reasonable person would have acted in similar situations.
The standard of care is generally objective and does not take into account the specific characteristics such as age, nature, etc. of the defendant. However, this case recognized exceptions to this.
The case was based on the legal principle that a defendant’s identity as a child is relevant to the standard of care. In other words, a child is held to the standard of a reasonable child of the same age, and not to the standard expected of a reasonable adult.
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