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Causation is key

Nathan Cahill v Gregory Mark Bowden

McMeekin J

3 February 2015

This case is a reminder of the importance of proving the causal link between the damage suffered and the alleged negligence of the defendant. It is not enough to show there was an act or omission by an employer and that there was injury. The act or omission must have caused or materially contributed to the injury.


The plaintiff suffered injuries in 2008 when he fell from a horse while employed as a musterer for the employer. He originally claimed for injuries to his pelvis, neck, shoulder, ribs and eye as a result of the fall. Both liability and quantum were in issue at trial.

Up until the commencement of the trial, the plaintiff had claimed that his injuries were sustained because the horse had “big head disease” (a disease affecting the bones of a horse, which the plaintiff said caused the horse to stumble and the plaintiff to fall off the horse). This was vehemently denied by the employer and other witnesses.

Pleadings had been amended a number of times, and finally, to include that the horse the plaintiff rode was dangerous, and the herd of horses, including the subject horse, were of bad quality and temperament and were inadequately trained.

During opening submissions, the plaintiff's barrister conveyed that the plaintiff would no longer be alleging the horse had “big head” disease. This was a significant change to the plaintiff's case. The plaintiff had not provided any expert evidence to prove the horse had such a disease, or that it was dangerous.


On the first day, the issue of causation was raised. Judge McMeekin questioned the plaintiff's barrister on the case suggesting that he considered the plaintiff would have difficulties in proving liability.

When discussing causation, Judge McMeekin used an analogy of an employer giving an employee a car to demonstrate his concerns:

“The employer knows that the car is defective in that the brakes intermittently don't function, so the car is plainly dangerous. An accident happens and the employee is injured. Let us say that the accident happens because the steering failed. That being a problem unknown to the employer and not reasonably discoverable by the employer, it is no – it does not avail the employee to argue that the employer should not have given him the car. That doesn't get him home. He has to show – because he fails on causation. That is, the negligence involved in the employer's action in giving him the car didn't cause his injury even though he can argue quite sensibly “I should never have been given that car”. And I'm just wondering – is that where we're headed in this case? I don't know. You know the scope of your evidence; I don't. But the way you put it to me yesterday made me wonder – are you seeking for me to draw an inference that because there were defects in this horse, such that it was not the best standard of horse for a stock horse in a tricky mustering situation, that therefore you're entitled to a finding on causation?”


Ultimately, on the second morning of trial the matter was adjourned for the plaintiff to take advice in relation to his case. The parties returned before Judge McMeekin seeking a consent order for judgement for the defendant, with no order as to costs.

The judgement was made accordingly.