Helen Scott, ‘The History of Foreseeability’

The factual component of the duty of care inquiry – that harm to the claimant as a result of the defendant’s conduct was reasonably foreseeable by the defendant – has been entrenched in English law since Donoghue v Stevenson. Both indigenous and comparative (specifically South African) evidence suggests that Lord Atkin’s formulation of the duty of care test was influenced by a particular fragment contained in Title 9.2 of Justinian’s Digest, ‘On the lex Aquilia’. Interrogation of the foreseeability principle in its original setting shows, however, that its role there was rather circumscribed. Derived perhaps from the account of wrongdoing offered by Aristotle, for whom the fact that harm had occurred contrary to expectation (paralogos) served to demonstrate that it had been unintentionally inflicted, in the context of Roman culpa foreseeability functioned as a technique for determining the avoidability of the harm – essentially a causal inquiry. This historical insight serves to illuminate the limits of foreseeability in the context of the modern test for duty of care. As a principle which generates liability, it may be that reasonable foreseeability cannot bear the normative weight assigned to it. Thus the history of foreseeability furnishes the material for a further critique of the duty concept, adding an historical dimension to contemporary calls to abandon the factual component of the duty of care entirely.

Helen Scott, The History of Foreseeability, Current Legal Problems, https://doi.org/10.1093/clp/cuz009. Published: 19 October 2019.

Leave a Reply