HISTORY AND EVOLUTION OF THE CONCEPT OF NEGLIGENCE

The word ‘negligence’ has its roots in the Latin word ‘negligentia’ meaning ‘failing to pick up’. So the general meaning of negligence is being reckless and careless while doing something but the legal meaning of Negligence is the conduct of an individual which fails to conform to a required standard of duty of care. The case Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks Co.[1] establishes the essence of negligence describing that a person must perform or fail to perform an act that someone of ordinary prudence would not have or would have performed or liability will not arise otherwise.

Sir Percy Winfield calls the history of negligence as a “skein of threads” where he said that it is difficult to find out the concrete history as the more we dig into it, the more frayed ends would be unearthed. The origins of the concept of liability can be looked back to the Anglo-Saxon period where Henry de Bracton’s book “Tractatus de legibus et consuetudinibus Anglie” depicts that there is very little trace of liability for negligence. But legal historians explain that the cases related to negligence could have been mostly dealt with in local courts in some way or the other. In the court of the Lord, the negligent acts were considered as ‘wrongs’ where these ‘wrongs’ were treated to be intentional and rarely unintentional. In those days, the state of mind of the wrongdoer was not taken into consideration but the act was looked upon. The law has little to say about ‘negligence’ as a term but in many ways, it has grasped the ideas underlying it. In the early 16th century and during Edward III’s reign, there was a rule that ‘every artificer and every person engaged in a common calling has the duty to exercise his skill rightly and truly as he ought to’ and in many cases, it could be observed that negligence was not mentioned in most of the cases but the idea of an act or an omission which is implied can be recognised. And in those days, the defences used by the defendant are majorly two- ‘act of god’ and ‘king’s enemies’. The latter half of the 16th and 17th centuries do not display much progress in the theory of negligence but the seeds of the idea had been sown in the legal sphere. The trend of negligence in the 18th century is more or less the same as the earlier notion which can be understood by the words of Sir William Blackstone where he says that everyone who undertakes any kind of office, employment, contract or trust, have to perform it with integrity, diligence, and skill meaning that they are liable for negligence in the due course of time. In short, we can say that medieval law covers one or the other form of negligence which refers to the actions of a reasonable man in any given circumstance. In the 19th century, the emergence of the concept of negligence as an independent tort is comparatively rapid where the legal reports from 1824 to 1840 contain declarations of the defendant’s actions as ‘negligently, carelessly, unskilfully and improperly, ensuing harm to the plaintiff’.

Later in the 20th century, the negligence concept has become clearer, carrying a double meaning. Negligence might mean (a) a definitive tort which consists in the breach of a legal duty by an act or an omission causing damage to another where the standard of duty is that of a reasonable man which again depends on the circumstances; (b) a mere inadvertence to a legal duty which is a possible mental element in the commission of some other tort.

The modern law on negligence is based on the duty of care owed by the plaintiff to the defendant which has evolved from the case Donoghue v Stevenson[2] in 1932.

[1] 11 Exch. 781

[2] 1932 SC (HL) 31

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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