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Negligence Tort Law - Legal Research Analysis




Case Background

In this case, Academia Construction Company was working on a new building on the outskirts of Toronto. Academia was an established and licensed business working mainly with residential and commercial property construction and land clearance. For its Toronto job, Academia was contracted to build an office complex; this property was in its very beginning phases of construction, so the site was full of equipment including several cranes, a bulldozer, and a backhoe. Part of the foundation was constructed on August 4th, when a delay caused the crew to halt operations and leave the site. The site itself, occupying roughly one whole block, was cleared and fenced with chain-link and padlocks. On August 4th, one of the construction crew members, Gavin McGee, left a set of keys and his lunch sitting in the cab of a backhoe; all of the other equipment was secure and the gates were locked.

Hours later, a ten-year-old boy named Jimmy Willis was playing nearby, noticed the construction site and was attracted to its mounds of dirt and half-finished foundation. Willis simply walked between the gate post and the chain, due to his smallness, and gained easy access to the construction site despite the fencing. Once in the area, he played in the dirt for some time, and then, growing bored, started to check out the foundation, and then the construction equipment. Willis quickly found the keys and managed to start the backhoe, at which point he lost control of the heavy machinery, damaging it and injuring himself in the process. Thrown from the cab, Jimmy broke his arm. In the wake of these events, Jimmy's parents filed a lawsuit against Academia Construction for negligence; in addition, they are looking into filing a personal injury lawsuit on his behalf.

Case Analysis: Tort of Negligence

In this case, Jimmy's parents are the plaintiffs because the injured party cannot bring a lawsuit himself, being only ten years old. The crux of the lawsuit is whether or not Academia Construction was negligent according to a reasonable standard; as the law states in terms of negligence torts, "Everyone is under a legal obligation to take reasonable care to ensure that others will not be injured because of careless conduct, save for a few exceptional situations" (Torts, 2017, p. 1). Since Jimmy is a child, he cannot reasonably be held negligent for entering the locked construction site, just as a child cannot be held reasonably and legally responsible for doing something like signing a contract. They simply do not have enough life experience and judgment to make reasonable decisions; therefore, it is society's duty to protect children from what they may do to themselves. For Academia to be found negligent in this case, it must be demonstrated that they could have reasonably prevented Jimmy's injuries, which occurred while he was playing around with their machinery on what was supposed to be a closed site. Legally, the case can be seen in terms of Academia's responsibility for Jimmy's safety, as well as their duty to cut off any risk that they can predict regarding a construction site. Academia had an action plan in effect in which they sought to show responsibility and a reasonable standard by fencing and locking the site, thus heading off any injury that might potentially be inflicted on the public.

Academia Construction

Legally, negligence can be seen as a chain of events as well as an assumption of responsibility vs. risk. To put it another way, if Academia Construction could have reasonably prevented Jimmy from being injured, then it is likely that the Willis family will be able to recoup and also get damages. In one case, for example, "The appellants alleged that as a result of the defendant's faulty work and failure to warn them of the deteriorating condition of the roof, substantial water damage was caused to their home" (Duty, 2017, p. 1). Jimmy's parents have essentially the same argument that follows the above precedent, except that the damage was done to their son rather than to their household or property. Even though Academia did take care to lock the site, it was nonetheless not enough security. Jimmy did not even have to climb over or squirm under the chain link fence; he simply walked between the fence pole and the swinging gate, which was locked with a chain wider than he was.

One strong factor that will likely work against Academia Construction in this case, despite positive factors in its favor (such as locking the gate in the first place rather than leaving it open), is the fact that a construction site, viewed reasonably from the perspective of a ten-year-old child like Jimmy Willis, offers what is referred to legally as an attractive nuisance. If one remembers being a child, one likely remembers hanging out and playing at one attractive nuisance or another: in a sewer pipe, for example, or on an abandoned tree stand. Attractive nuisances are dangerous places that are particularly attractive to children. Academia's construction site in this case would qualify as an attractive nuisance, since not only do children like playing on large dirt mountains, but also, they tend to enjoy things like construction machinery. If one leafs through any toy catalog, one will likely find a whole section devoted to toy backhoes, bulldozers, cement trucks, tractors, and other such equipment. Academia's Toronto site offered a child like Jimmy a virtual cornucopia of attractive nuisances.

As Academia created an attractive nuisance, and also was responsible for the actions of its employee Gavin McGee, it is likely that in the above-mentioned chain of negligence ends with that company in this case, rather than its individual employee who was trained and hired by that company. It is likely that Jimmy's parents will, as noted, recoup, and also will likely succeed if they bring a personal injury suit. It is also possible that the family will win a case against the site's property owner. The reason is a simple matter of cause and effect, as is the case in most negligence torts. As mentioned above, the idea of the reasonable standard can be applied to this case in terms of the behavior expected of Jimmy, as well as the behavior expected of Academia, when it comes to risk and responsibility.

When it comes to establishing cause and effect, and a chain of negligence, the law is fairly clear. As noted above, "Everyone must live up to the standards of the reasonable person, an important concept of the negligence tort. Based on objective guidelines and built on precedents, the standard allows the court to adapt to the changing circumstances of what might be considered reasonable. Similarly, if people through their own negligence cause or contribute to their own injuries, they will be held at least partly responsible for their damages under the contributory negligence defence" (Torts, p. 1). One might argue that Jimmy's parents have the wrong target with Academia, and that they should be suing Gavin McGee personally, since, as he is the person who left the keys in the backhoe, the chain of negligence should start with him. However, this process of reasoning is faulty, because even if an employee of Academia Construction acts in an irresponsible manner on the job, it is not their responsibility, but rather the larger organization that hired them. In addition, as the saying goes, one cannot get blood from a stone, and in terms of which entity Jimmy's parents are more likely to receive a successful amount of damages from, a part-time construction worker with approximately fifteen thousand Canadian dollars in debt is a much less attractive target than a large and successful construction company, from what one may call a practical or real-politick perspective.

Conclusion

This case is likely to be decided in favor of Bob and Trudy Willis, rather than Academia Construction, because the chain of negligence resulting in Jimmy's injury started with Academia, which created an attractive nuisance and then was negligent in protecting it from intercession. Jimmy is a ten-year-old child who does not have any disabilities, and falls under the legal category of child. Because he is a child, even though he entered Academia's property illegally, he cannot be charged with negligence himself, since children are not held to the same reasonable standard as adults. As everyone knows, children are not yet fully formed in terms of being able to think through the consequences of impulsive actions. As Jimmy is a child, he is essentially and legally supposed to be protected from himself by his parents and society. This society includes companies like Academia Construction.

References

Duty and standard of care in Academic Buidling Constructions.

Torts in Canada.