Stansbie v Troman

Stansbie v Troman [1948]: Facts and Decision

Stansbie v Troman [1948] is a UK tort law case on the negligence of a decorator who is contracted to work at a house. He leaves the house unattended with the door unlocked.

Case name:Stansbie v Troman
Case citation:Stansbie v Troman [1948] 2 KB 48
Court:Court of Appeal
Jurisdiction:England and Wales
The bench of judges:Tucker and Somervell LJ and Roxburgh J
Area of law:Negligence; duty of care

Facts of the case (Stansbie v Troman)

A decorator was working alone in a house. He carelessly left the door unlocked while he was gone for two hours to buy wallpaper. As a result of this, a thief entered and stole some jewellery and clothes. The house owner sought to recover the cost of these items from the decorator.

Contentions by the parties

The decorator contended that it was not his duty to keep the house secure against burglars and robbers. Certain obligations were imposed on him by the agreement with the house owner, but it was outside the scope of these obligations to require him to lock the door when he left the house. Even if he owed a duty, the theft was carried out by a third party, so there was a break in the chain of causation, and the losses could not be attributed to the breach.

The house owner, on the other hand, contended that the contractual agreement imposed a duty on the decorator to take reasonable care of the premises when he left them. He breached his duty when he left the door unlocked, and as a direct consequence of this, a thief gained access to the property and stole several valuable items.

Issue that arose

Was the decorator liable for the loss suffered by the house owner?

Judgment of the Court in Stansbie v Troman

The decorator was liable. He was under a duty to exercise reasonable care of the premises when he left them. The fact that the door was left unlocked while the house was unoccupied for two hours constituted a failure to exercise reasonable care. As a direct consequence of this, the house owner suffered losses for which the decorator was liable.

Meaning of “Novus actus interveniens”

In general, when an independent event takes place after the defendant’s breach of duty and causes damage to the plaintiff, the question arises as to whether the defendant should be held liable for the damage, or whether the intervening event should be treated as a novus actus interveniens that “breaks the chain of causation” and therefore relieves the defendant from liability. There are no firm principles for this and the courts usually take into account the facts and circumstances of each case.

But of the many tests that have been suggested for deciding this tricky question, perhaps the most useful is whether or not a reasonable man would have said that the damage caused by the intervening event was within the likely or foreseeable risk created by the defendant’s negligence.

If we see the given case, here the act of the thief was within the foreseeable risk created by the decorator’s breach of duty and he could not use the defense of novus actus interveniens. Thus, he was liable for the loss. The risk that a thief could enter the house was caused as a result of the decorator’s breach of duty.

List of references:

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