Classic case studies

No.2 - Hunter v Hanley

Ten cases every consulting engineer should know

Hunter v Hanley 1955 S.C. 200

In summary

Hunter v Hanley is the Scottish equivalent to Bolam.   It sets out a slightly different test applicable to  professional negligence cases under the law of Scotland. 


Hanley was being given an injection but suffered an injury when the hypodermic needle broke.   She subsequently alleged that the accident had been caused by Hunter who had failed to exercise the standard of care and competence which it was his duty to observe in giving the injection.   More specifically it was alleged that the type of needle used by Hunter was not of suitable and adequate strength for that type of injection.  

The court held that: 

Deviation from ordinary professional practice is not necessarily evidence of negligence and it would hinder progress in medical treatment if the law were to hold otherwise.  Even a substantial deviation from normal practice may be warranted by the particular circumstances of a case. 

In order to establish liability in circumstances where deviation from normal practice is alleged, three facts have to be established: 

  1. It must be proved that there is a usual and normal practice; 
  2. It must be proved that the defender has not adopted that practice; and
  3. Most importantly, it must be established that the course the professional had adopted is one which no professional person of ordinary skill would have taken if he/she had been acting with ordinary care.

The onus rests on a pursuer to establish these three facts, and without all three his case will fail. Like the Bolam test, Hunter was a medical negligence case whose principles in relation to the required standard of care have been extended to apply to other professions including consulting engineers.

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