Wyong Shire Council v Shirt

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Citation: (1980) 146 CLR 40

This information can be found in the Textbook: Sappideen, Vines, Grant & Watson, Torts: Commentary and Materials (Lawbook Co, 10th ed, 2009), pp. 374-5 [12.35]


Background facts

  • Plaintiff [Shirt] was gravely injured after water skiing in a lake.
  • The water was really shallow in some places, and that is why the Plaintiff was injured.
  • The Defendant erected a 'deep water' sign close to where the Plaintiff was hurt, which meant to serve as a border - beyond it, the water starts getting shallower.

Legal issues


Reasonable foreseeability

  • Reasonable foreseeability in breach has a very wide scope. It is not about the likelihood or probability of the event - that is a different inquiry which comes later.
    • "Foreseeability of the risk of injury and the likelihood of that risk occurring are two different things[1]."
  • Foreseeability in this context means that the risk is not far fetched or fanciful.
    • "Consequently, when we speak of a risk of injury as being 'foreseeable' we are not making any statement as to the probability or improbability of its occurrence, save that we are implicitly asserting that the risk is not one that is far-fetched or fanciful[2]."
  • In this case, the risk was that the ambiguity of the sign might induce people to believe that the water was deep and therefore safe for water skiing.
  • This is a foreseeable risk.

Calculus of negligence

  • "The perception of the reasonable man's response calls for a consideration of the magnitude of the risk and the degree of probability of its occurrence, along with the expense, difficulty and inconvenience of taking alleviating action and any other conflicting responsibilities which the defendant may have[3]."


  1. (1980) 146 CLR 40, 44
  2. (1980) 146 CLR 40, 44
  3. (1980) 146 CLR 40, 47-8
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