Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington HMC: What is “but for test”?
Areas of applicable law: Tort law – Breach of duty – Causation – The “but for test”
Main arguments in this case: The “but for test” in factual causation. A claimant must prove that the damage he has suffered was a direct consequence of the defendant’s action.
The fact of the case: In Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee (1968) some night security guards drank tea on their site in cups that were collected from the site. The other guards were ok but one got quite sick and came to the hospital. The guard in fact was suffering from arsenic poisoning which probably occurred due to using one of the cups from the site. He complained of stomach pain and nausea. The casualty doctor did not see him and the guard was told to go home and see his GP the following day if his condition continued. The guard died a few hours later.
The hospital was sued for being in breach of duty to the deceased. The action failed as there was evidence that even if he was treated by the doctor, he would have died nonetheless. Therefore the hospital was not liable.