RTA v Dederer

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Citation: Road Traffic Authority of NSW v Dederer (2007) 324 CLR 330

This information can be found in the Textbook: Sappideen, Vines, Grant & Watson, Torts: Commentary and Materials (Lawbook Co, 10th ed, 2009), pp. 390-6 [12.105]

Contents

Background facts

  • Plaintiff [Dederer] jumped off a bridge into the water below and gravely injured himself.
  • Many others used to do it all the time but none have been injured.
  • The river bed below was constantly changing due to nature.
  • There were signs on the bridge with pictograms indicating no diving.
  • The bridge was maintained by the Defendant [RTA], and had horizontal bars (not allowed anymore) which enabled the Plaintiff to climb onto a platform and jump.

Argument

  • The Plaintiff alleged that the RTA should have:
  1. Provided better signage.
  2. Made sure that there is no platform to jump off.
  3. Changed the horizontal railings into vertical ones (as is state regulation)
    • Note: the regulation was only passed after the bridge was constructed.


Legal issues

Judgment

Distinction between reasonable care and actual prevention of the risk

  • The standard of care requires the defendant to exercise reasonable care to reduce risk. it does not require him to prevent the risk.
    • "Whatever its scope, a duty of care imposes an obligation to exercise reasonable care; it does not impose a duty to prevent potentially harmful conduct[1]."
  • A duty of care is discharged once the defendant exercises reasonable care. If a plaintiff is injured despite the defendant taking the reasonable measures, the defendant will not be liable.
    • "Whatever their scope, all duties of care are to be discharged by the exercise of a reasonable care[2]."
  • In this case, the Trial judge said that the signs failed to meet the standard of care because they failed prevent diving from the bridge.
  • This is an error - the RTA still exercised reasonable care by providing a warning. The fact that people chose to ignore the warning doesn't mean that the RTA failed to take reasonable care.
    • "The error in that approach lies in confusing the question of whether the RTA failed to prevent the risk-taking conduct with the separate question of whether it exercised reasonable care. If the RTA exercised reasonable care, it would not be liable even if the risk-taking conduct continued. If the contrary were true, then defendants would be liable in any case in which a plaintiff ignored a warning or prohibition sign and engaged in the conduct the subject of the warning."

Identification of the risk

  • There has a misidentification of the risk in the prior proceedings. The risk of injury was not because of the bridge itself, it was because of jumping into shallow water.
  • Thus, the prior proceedings adjudged that there was great probability because a lot of people used to jump off the bridge.
  • However, probability is about probability of the injury - that means that the fact that people jumped regularly and only one got injured meant that the risk was improbable (or less probable at the least) if anything.
  • Also, the misidentification of the risk caused the courts to ascribe greater control to the RTA than it had. In fact it had no control over the Plaintiff jumping, or the water levels underneath.

The scope of the Defendant's duty of care

  • In this case, the RTA had a duty of care to all users of the bridge, regardless of whether they use it safely or not.
  • However, the standard of care is defined in response to people exercising reasonable care of their own safety.
    • "The extent of the obligation owed by the RTA was that of a roads authority exercising reasonable care to see that the road is safe 'for users exercising reasonable care for their own safety'<ref"
    • This means that whilst the RTA owes a duty to everyone, the measures it needs to take are those which are reasonably needed to protect people who are also behaving reasonably.

The factors

  • Probability of harm was low
  • Magnitude was high
  • Suggested measures offered by the Plaintiff would either be ineffective (signs, modifying platform - would probably be ignored), or too expensive in light of the circumstances (a fence would be over $100,000).
  • The measure of care taken by the RTA - a warning sign - is sufficient to discharge them of their duty of care.
  • Plaintiff fails.

References

  1. (2007) 324 CLR 330, 337
  2. (2007) 324 CLR 330, 344
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