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Yachuk v Oliver Blais Co Ltd 1949

Yachuk v Oliver Blais Co Ltd [1949] AC 386 revolved around the attribution of injuries suffered by a nine-year-old boy solely to the negligence of the respondent's employee and whether there was contributory negligence on the part of the child.


The claimant, a nine-year-old boy, sought gasoline from the respondent's gasoline station for a purpose other than what he stated, resulting in severe burns when the gasoline caught fire. The central question was whether the injuries could be solely attributed to the negligence of the respondent's employee or if there was contributory negligence on the part of the child.


The Privy Council, in allowing the appeal, held that the injuries suffered by the claimant should be attributed solely to the negligence of the respondent's employee. Lord Du Parcq emphasised that the respondent had acted negligently by providing a dangerous substance to a small boy, foreseeing the likelihood of the child injuring himself. The fact that the child had deceived the employee did not absolve the respondent of negligence. Lord Denman's principle in Lynch v Nurdin was invoked, asserting that the negligence of the respondent's servant in tempting the child precluded reproaching the child for yielding to that temptation.


Regarding contributory negligence, the judgment emphasised that the child's actions should be assessed based on the knowledge expected of a normal child of his age. It was concluded that the claimant did not possess greater knowledge of gasoline properties than an average child, and thus, no failure to take reasonable care for his own safety could be imputed to him. Therefore, on the facts, there was no contributory negligence on the part of the appellant.


This judgment aligns with the traditional English approach to contributory negligence involving children, emphasising that a child should only be found guilty of contributory negligence if they are of an age where precautions for their safety are expected, and blame can be attached to them. The case reinforces the principle that, in situations involving children, the responsibility lies primarily with the adults or entities who have acted negligently, and the child's actions are to be considered in light of their age and expected level of understanding.


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