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Cover Casebook on Tort Law

5. Special duty problems: public bodies  

Public bodies have extensive powers to act for the public benefit but often have limited resources. Difficult decisions have to be made, and if those decisions are wholly unreasonable they may be corrected by judicial review; that is, by public law remedies. A more difficult question is whether failure by a public body provides a private right of action to someone harmed (or not benefited) by the decision. While the general principles of duty of care apply (that is, proximity and whether it is fair and just to impose liability), there are several limitations on the liability of public bodies in negligence. This chapter first discusses the special common law principles applicable to the exercise of discretion by public bodies. It then considers specific problematic areas, including the difficulties involved in establishing duties of care by the emergency services before examining the effect of the Human Rights Act 1998 in establishing obligations owed directly by the state.


Cover Tort Law Concentrate

3. Duty of care  

Further issues

This chapter discusses areas in which the existence of a duty of care is problematic, particularly raising policy reasons for not imposing negligence liability in certain situations. Duty of care is often absent in the case of omissions, that is, when damage resulted from the defendant’s lack of action, rather than directly from a positive act. When the defendant is a public body, concern about operational discretion and financial implications may make it undesirable to impose a duty of care. There is a focus on negligence claims against the police. Duties to the unborn child are included.