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Decoding Judgements: Understanding Negligence in Bolton v Stone

25 August 2023 | CaseSnappy Team

Whitechapel in London at night.


We're back with another instalment of the "Decoding Judgements" series from CaseSnappy. This week, we're picking up the bat and ball to tackle the subject of negligence in Bolton v Stone [1951] AC 850. This case started on a cricket pitch but ended in the House of Lords and has been foundational in the law concerning negligence and foreseeability.

Stray Ball's Impact: Facts of the Case

The heart of the dispute lies in an unfortunate incident where a cricket ball was hit out from a nearby cricket ground. The ball led to the injury of Miss Stone, a passer-by, despite the presence of a 17 feet high fence. The incident was far from common, with an estimated chance of one in 100,000. This particular cricket ground had only witnessed the ball being hit out six times in the last 30 years. Miss Stone sued the cricket club, claiming negligence on their part.

Debate of Foreseeability: Issues in the Case

The core issue centred around whether the cricket club had been negligent in not taking further precautions to prevent a rare event—a cricket ball hitting a passer-by outside the ground. Missing Stone argued that the club had failed to take reasonable precautions, whilst the defendant asserted that the risk of injury was so small that it was not reasonably foreseeable, and therefore, they were not negligent.

Onus of Probability: The Decision

The House of Lords ruled that there had been no negligence by the cricket club. They found the possibility of injury to be extremely minimal and not reasonably foreseeable. Furthermore, the club had taken enough precautions. The case established a fine balance between the magnitude and likelihood of risk.

Lord Normand's key passage conveys the essence: "It is not the law that precautions must be taken against every peril that can be foreseen by the timorous."

CaseSnappy: Simplifying Legal Complexity

Through the lens of Bolton v Stone, we comprehend the nuances that define negligence and the essence of reasonable foreseeability. At CaseSnappy, we are committed to presenting complex legal judgments in a simplified manner so that they can be easily digested by law students, professionals, and law enthusiasts.

Stay tuned for the next in our "Decoding Judgements" series for more intriguing case insights. Sign up for CaseSnappy for free today to explore a world of legal knowledge at your fingertips.

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