Chapman v Hearse

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Citation: Chapman v Hearse (1961) 106 CLR 112

This information can be found in the Textbook: Sappideen, Vines, Grant & Watson, Torts: Commentary and Materials (Lawbook Co, 10th ed, 2009), pp. 207-8


Background facts

  • The Appellant (Chapman) drove negligently and hit into another car, flipping his own over and being knocked out of it into the road where he lay unconscious.
  • Several cars stopped by to help the victims of this accident. One was Dr. Cherry, who rushed towards the appellant.
  • Whilst he was attending to the unconscious Appellant, Dr. Cherry was struck by the Respondent (Hearse) who was also driving negligently.
  • Dr Cherry died as a result
  • Court decided on the case, and the Appellant owed money to Dr. Cherry's estate


  • The Appellant claimed that he could not reasonably foresee that he would be thrown out into the road, and that someone would stop and assist him and that this person would then be run over by another car.
  • Because there was no reasonable foreseeability, he owed no duty of care.

Legal issues


Reasonable foreseeability

  • In agreement with the Full Court of Appeal, the High Court doesn't think the precise sequence needed to be reasonably foreseeable - instead, it needs to be a consequence of the same general character.
    • "It is, we think, ask whether a consequence of the same general character as that which followed was reasonably foreseeable as one not unlikely to follow a collision between two vehicles on a dark wet night upon a busy highway[1]."
    • Quoting Haynes v Harwood: "it is not necessary to show that this particular accident and this particular damage were probable; it is sufficient if the accident is of a class that might well be anticipated as one of the reasonable and probably results of a wrongful act[2]."
  • The particular sequence here was of a class that should have been anticipated when driving negligently - driving negligently could very easily result in someone being run over.
  • The Appellants argument fails.

Intervening act

  • In this case, the subsequent act was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the first one - in the ordinary course of things, the very kind of thing likely to happen as a result of the defendant’s negligence.
  • It can be said that the first act act exposed the plaintiff to negligence by third party, and therefore the chain of causation is not broken.
  • Establishes the idea that an intervening act does not cut off liability as long as the intervening act was a reasonably foreseeable result of the original act.


  1. (1961)106 CLR 112, 120
  2. [1935] 1 KB 146, 156
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