McKew v Holland and Hannen [1969] 3 All ER 1621

Key point

  • An unreasonable act by victim was results in further injury amounts to break in the chain of causation in negligence


  • The claimant (C) was injured in a work-related accident resulting in a weak leg
  • Subsequently, C descended a steep staircase with no handrail and his weak leg gave way, causing him to fall and sustain a broken ankle
  • C sued his employer for negligence and claimed damages for both his first and second injury


  • Was the employer liable for the second injury?

Held (House of Lords (Scotland))

  • C’s attempt to descend the stairs with no handrail alone without assistance despite his weak leg was unreasonable and had broken the chain of causation

Lord Reid

  • ‘if the injured man acts unreasonably, he cannot hold the defender liable for injury caused by his own unreasonable conduct. His unreasonable conduct is novus actus interveniens . The chain of causation has been broken and what follows must be regarded as caused by his own conduct and not by the defender’s fault or the disability caused by it.’
  • ‘it is often easy to foresee unreasonable conduct or some other novus actus interveniens as being quite likely. But that does not mean that the defender must pay for damage caused by the novus actus.’


  • Note Lord Reid’s point on foreseeability – thus the ratio in this case is an exception to the general remoteness rule in negligence