The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled in the case of Resurfice Corp. v Hanke (2007 SCC 7) and shed new light on one of the four elements of negligence. Ralph Hanke operated an ice-resurfacing machine at an Edmonton rink, and was horribly injured when an explosion occurred, after Hanke put water into the gas tank. He claimed that the water tank and gas tank were too close together and looked too much alike, and that the manufacturer and distributor of the machine should be held liable for his injuries.
The Appeal Court in Alberta had ruled in Hanke’s favour, considering in part the seriousness of his injuries and the relative financial positions of the parties. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, properly interpreted the ‘but-for’ test, which is used to determine whether there is a causal connection between a defendant party’s conduct and a plaintiff’s injuries. In this case, Hanke was an experienced operator, knew the difference between the two tanks, knew not to put water into the gas tank, and the gas tank was clearly marked ‘gasoline only’. The ‘but-for’ test did not establish that the defendant’s negligent act or omission caused, or substantially contributed to Hanke’s injuries.
The Supreme Court concluded ‘Foreseeability depends on what a reasonable person would anticipate, not on the seriousness of the plaintiff’s injuries or the depth of the defendant’s pockets’. Ultimately, Hanke’s own conduct was found to be the cause of his tragic misfortune.
Resurface Corp v. Hanke (2007 SCC 7)
Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2007) Vol. 3(1)