Woodroffe-Hedley v Cuthbertson (1997) QBD Unreported, 20 June 1997
Woodroffe-Hedley v Cuthbertson (1997) is a tort law case that involved a tragic mountaineering accident. It concerns the issue of duty of care and negligence.
Facts of the case (Woodroffe-Hedley v Cuthbertson)
The plaintiff (Hedley) hired the defendant, a qualified and professional mountain guide, to accompany him on a climb in the French Alps. During their time together, the two were involved in an accident that led to this lawsuit.
The guide (Cuthbertson) used only one ice screw to secure the plaintiff to the North Face of the Tour Ronde, despite the fact that it was “universal practice” to use two ice screws unless there was an overriding reason to do otherwise. Cuthbertson was in the lead and he did this to save time as he was concerned about the sun’s effect on the snow.
Unfortunately, a large sheet of ice broke away from the mountain, the single screw belay loosened and an accident occurred whereby Hedley fell off and died. The victim’s six-year-old son brought a negligence case against the defendant.
Was the victim’s mountain guide guilty of negligence?
Judgment of the Court in Woodroffe-Hedley v Cuthbertson
Because the defendant was unable to provide a reasonable explanation for why he used only one screw, he was found to be liable for the death of the plaintiff, who had fallen off the North Face after the one screw he was using became loose. The Court held that the defendant was negligent on his part and fell below the standard of care that ought to have been owed to the victim.
The victim’s son was awarded £150,000 in damages.
The reasoning behind the decision
People who organize sports activities and take responsibility for the participants are expected to exercise care when providing them with guidance and instruction. In these kinds of situations, the standard of care provided is very similar to what is expected of people who work in professional settings.
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