Barrett v Ministry of Defence

NEGLIGENCE, DUTY OF CARE, LIABILITY FOR EMPLOYEE’S DEATH,

INJURY CAUSED BY DRUNKENNESS, NAVAL REGULATIONS, SAFETY

Facts

The plaintiff was the widow of the deceased, who was a British naval army serviceman. He died of asphyxiation on his own vomit after becoming drunk and ending up in coma at a naval base in Norway. The deceased’s commanding officer was charged with negligence under Art. 1810 Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy 1967 which provided that it was the duty of officers to discourage drunkenness. The widow claimed damages against the defendant – the Ministry of Defence (MoD), under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976. The Queen’s Bench held that the defendant had breached its duty to take measures to protect the deceased against his own weakness as it was foreseeable that he would succumb to intoxication. The damages awarded were reduced by 1/4 because of the deceased’s contributory negligence. The MoD appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

Issue

Does Art. 1810 Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy 1967 impose a duty to ensure the safety of serviceman in naval bases when off duty?

Held

(1) Art. 1810 Queen’s Regulations for the Royal Navy 1967 does not lay down standards or give guidance on the exercise of reasonable care for the safety of servicemen when off duty. Hence, it cannot be invoked when deciding whether duty of care was owed and whether the defendant had breached it.

(2). Until the deceased collapsed, he was responsible for his own condition as it is reasonable to leave a responsible adult to assume responsibility for his own actions in consuming an alcoholic drink

(3) However, after the deceased collapsed and was no longer able to assume responsibility and thus, the defendant had to do this for him, the defendant’s actions fell short of the reasonably expected standards.

(4) As it was the deceased’s lack of self-control that caused the defendant to have to assume responsibility, the damages awarded were reduced by 2/3.

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