Ms Springfield fell and severely injured herself whilst ascending the initial stairs in the house where she lived, which was owned by her sister, Ms Dumcombe. She suffered a severe blow to the head, from which she developed amnesia and was unable to recall how she had fallen, or what had caused her to fall. The section of stairs on which she fell was missing a balustrade on one side.
In the District Court, Ms Springfield claimed that her sister had breached her duty of care as the home owner, by failing to recognise a fault in the stairs (possibly the missing balustrade) as a risk, and taken reasonable steps to remove that risk.
The central issue in dispute between the parties was whether Ms Duncombe did in fact breach her duty of care as the owner of the home, and whether this breach of duty caused the accident. Causation was a central issue in this case.
Staff at the hospital which Ms Springfield had attended, and she herself, reported that the amnesia suffered as a result of the fall prevented her from recalling the exact mechanism of the fall.
Given that there were no witnesses to the accident and Ms Springfield could not recall what it was that had caused her to fall, the Court could only make inferences as to what had happened.
The case hinged entirely on the mechanism of the fall. At first instance, the Trial Judge held that there was no breach of duty on behalf of Ms Duncombe.
She explained that as there were no witnesses to the accident, it was only possible to make two inferences as to what had happened, and these could not be regarded as fact.
The two inference referred to by the Trial Judge were:
Her Honour maintained that where two inferences are of equal probability, Ms Springfield must fail because causation cannot be factually proven as more likely than not.
On appeal, the Trial Judge’s arguments were reaffirmed and it was confirmed by medical experts that there was no medical evidence to determine what had caused the fall.
Even though it seems likely that Ms Springfield had fallen down the stairs because of the missing balustrade, as she herself could not recall, there were no witnesses to the accident, and there was no medical evidence to suggest the mechanism of her fall, it could not be proven that this was the case. Therefore, the Court could not establish the element of causation. The Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, dismissed the appeal and Ms Duncombe was found not to have breached her duty of care and therefore had not acted negligently.