Case Briefs

Wilsher v Essex Area Health Authority

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Wilsher, an infant, developed a condition in the first months of his life. There were many possible causes of this condition, including an irregular partial pressure of oxygen in the body, which the Authority failed to monitor properly. However, they did not negligently perform any of the other potential causes. The infant developed problems with its eyes.


  1. Does the McGhee principle apply when there are numerous possible causes of a disease, and the defendants only caused one of them?


Appeal allowed.


Lord Bridge of Harwich states that the McGhee principle does not apply to this case. In McGhee there was only one possible factor leading to the injury – the brick dust. In this case there were numerous possibilities, and it is not known whether the Authority's negligence actually led to the injury. It is equally likely that any of the other possible causes created the injury. There can be no presumption here that the negligence led to the injury, and therefore the Authority cannot be held liable.


The McGhee principle does not apply unless there is only one cause of the injury, and it happened as a result of the defendant’s actions; defendants cannot be held liable for an injury if their negligence only led to one of numerous causes, and it cannot be determined what actually caused the injury.

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