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Breaking the chain

Breaking the chain

By Katie Murphy

Obligations Personal Injuries 


The doctrine of novus actus interveniens means that an original tortfeasor will not be held liable for their victim’s injuries where those injuries are contributed to by a new intervening act which breaks the chain of causation. Medical treatment must be grossly negligent before it will be found to constitute a new intervening act. However, there is little guidance as to the sort of treatment that will satisfy this threshold. Until further guidance is provided, the doctrine will continue to be under-utilised and plaintiffs will be best served where they can claim for the totality of their injuries against the original tortfeasor. It is well established that a tortfeasor can be held liable for further injuries suffered by their victim as a result of negligent medical treatment provided after the initial tortious act.1 However, the doctrine of novus actus interveniens means that they will not be held liable where the medical treatment provided was grossly negligent and constitutes a new intervening event that breaks the chain of causation.2

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