Barnett's husband died from arsenic poisoning. He felt sick after drinking tea at work and went to the hospital. He was not admitted and treated, but was told to go home. The doctor was at home and would not have been able to first see the man until approximately 11:00 AM. Barnett subsequently died at about 1:30 PM.
- Was the defendant’s negligence the cause of the death, or would it have inevitably happened anyway
Judgment for the defendant.
Nield, based on the evidence, decides that even if the man had been admitted to the hospital upon his arrival he would likely have died. There was only one antidote for arsenic poisoning, and it was not readily available and could probably not have been administered in time to save his life. In cases of cause in fact the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant’s negligence caused the harm. That means that they must prove that without the negligence, the harm would not have occurred. The wife does not do this here, as it is probable that the man would have died even without the hospital's negligent refusal
The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the negligent actions of the defendant caused the outcome, i.e. they must establish that if the negligent act did not occur, then the damage would not have happened. This is common sense ("It would have happened anyway", "there is nothing you could have done") But is this decision morally problematic ? Does common sense support this outcome? Is the divergence of law from morality here as great as it seems?