Barnett v Chelsea & Kensington HMC – Case Summary

Barnett v Chelsea and Kensington Hospital Management Committee

High Court

Citations: [1969] 1 QB 428; [1968] 2 WLR 422; [1968] 1 All ER 1068; (1967) 111 SJ 912; [1968] CLY 2715.


The claimant was the estate of a patient who had died in the defendant’s hospital. The deceased had unknowingly drank tea laced with poison. He went to Accident and Emergency complaining of severe vomiting. The attending doctor did not examine him. Instead, the doctor told him to go see his GP. The deceased died five hours later. Expert evidence indicated that even if he had been treated, the man probably would have died. The claimant sued in negligence.

  1. Did the defendant owe the claimant a duty of care?
  2. Was the defendant in breach of their duty of care?
  3. Did any breach of duty cause the man’s death?

The Court held for the defendant. While the defendant owed the deceased a duty of care which they breached, the man would have died in any event. Causation was therefore not established.

This Case is Authority For…

Doctors and nurses working at an accident and emergency service owe a duty to those who go there complaining of injury or illness. There is no need for the individual to have been accepted into the hospital ward before the duty is owed.

Factual causation between the breach and the injury must be established before a defendant is liable in negligence. If but for the breach, the claimant would still suffer the injury, then causation is not established. The burden of proof is on the claimant to establish causation.