Negligence in the Northern Territory (NT)
Updated on Nov 03, 2022 • 5 min read • 251 views • Copy Link
Negligence in the Northern Territory (NT)
Negligence is a failure to exercise the level of care appropriate in a given circumstance. The tort law of negligence addresses harm that results from this failure to take care. In the Northern Territory, the Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act 2003 governs most negligence claims, although there are separate provisions for some other compensation claims. This page looks at the law of negligence in the Northern Territory.
The Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act covers many negligence claims in the Northern Territory, but does not apply to:
- compensation claims under the Return to Work Act 1986 and the Return to Work Regulations 1986;
- personal injury claims from exposure to dust (such as asbestos products);
- compensation claims for injuries or deaths under the Motor Accidents (Compensation) Act 1979; and
- compensation claims for injuries resulting from defective goods or products.
Negligence claims in the Northern Territory
A plaintiff in a negligence claim seeks compensation for their injury, loss, or damage. The aim of compensation is to return the plaintiff, as far as possible, to the state they were in before the defendant breached their duty of care. Common examples of negligence include car accidents, medical negligence, and “slip and falls”. A negligence claim is often for personal injury, but can also be for property damage and financial loss.
A negligence claim only succeeds if the plaintiff can establish each of the four following elements:
- The defendant had a legal duty of care to the plaintiff.
- There was a breach of this duty.
- The plaintiff suffered some form of injury or damage.
- The breach of duty was a causal factor in the injury.
Duty of care
In the Northern Territory, certain individuals and entities have a duty of care towards specific other people. Some relationships have a recognised duty of care attached. For example, a physician has a duty of care to their patients, but this duty does not extend to the public indiscriminately. These relationships are often recognisable in that one party relies on the other party for care.
When there is no established duty of care, a plaintiff can still make a claim for compensation. The court will determine whether the person who caused the damage had a duty to the plaintiff. This assessment will consider whether there is sufficient “proximity” in the relationship for a duty of care to exist. In addition, there needs to be evidence that the defendant exercised control over the relationship and the plaintiff relied upon the defendant to take care. The courts typically make this assessment by recognising the similarity between an already recognised duty of care relationship and the case at hand.
There are some exceptions in the Northern Territory where an individual does not have a duty of care. For example, a volunteer in a charitable organisation and a donor of food does not incur liability towards others if they act in good faith without recklessness. A Good Samaritan can also give emergency aid to someone in distress without worrying about incurring legal liability.
Breach of duty
If a duty of care is found to exist, the plaintiff in a negligence case must also establish that the defendant breached this duty. A defendant breaches their duty when they act with less care than a reasonable person would show in the same circumstances. This depends on how foreseeable the risk was to the defendant, and what a reasonable person would do to mitigate the risk.
In the Northern Territory, an institution or organisation can also be held legally liable for the negligent actions of someone else. A common example of vicarious liability is the responsibility assigned to an employer for the negligence of an employee. For instance, an employer may be held vicariously liable if one employee sexually harasses another employee.
The Personal Injuries (Liabilities and Damages) Act makes a particular point of specifying that a person can express regret for an incident without this being construed as an admission of liability or negligence. In the Northern Territory, an expression of regret is not admissible as evidence in a negligence case.
Injury or loss
A plaintiff only has a claim for compensation in a negligence case when they sustain a loss, injury, or damage. Often, the nature of the injury is clear and undeniable, evidenced by medical reports or other expert evidence. However, in some instances, it can be more difficult for a plaintiff to establish that they have suffered a genuine injury or loss.
Finally, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s negligence in some way caused their injury. For instance, if a plaintiff has a pre-existing injury, it can be difficult to quantify the extent to which the defendant’s actions were responsible for the overall damage.
Sometimes the plaintiff is also partially to blame for their own injury because of contributory negligence. When a person does not take reasonable precautions to protect themselves, this can potentially reduce the defendant’s liability. For instance, if an employee suffers an injury at work due to faulty equipment, they may be found to have contributed to their own injury if they were not wearing mandatory safety gear. While the employer may still be held responsible for the accident, the level of injury was greater because of the employee’s own lack of care. If a claim is upheld, the employer can argue for a reduction in damages in an amount proportionate to the employee’s share of the blame.
Under the Limitation Act 1981, a plaintiff in the Northern Territory has three years to make a negligence claim over a personal injury. Other negligence claims have different time limits. In any case, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. The team at Go To Court Lawyers can answer any further questions you have about negligence claims in the Northern Territory. Please contact our team on 1300 636 846 for legal advice on this or any other matter.
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