Case Summary

McHale v Watson (1966) 115 CLR 199

Tort; Negligence; breach of the duty of care; foreseeability of harm; reasonable person; relevance of defendant's youth.

Facts: Barry Watson, a 12-year-old boy, took a sharp six-inch piece of steel to some open ground near his home and threw it at a wooden post, intending to make it stick there. But instead of penetrating the post, the rod glanced off at a tangent and struck McHale, a nine-year-old girl who was standing nearby, in her eye. McHale sued Watson and his parents on grounds of Negligence.

Issue: Was the age of the defendant relevant in determining the defendant's negligence?

Decision: The court held that it could not disregard the boy's age and that his behaviour had to be judged according to the standard of other 12-year-old boys.

Reason: McTiernan ACJ said (at [4]):

"I do not think that I am required to disregard altogether the fact that the defendant Barry Watson was at the time only twelve years old. In remembering that, I am not considering 'the idiosyncrasies of the particular person'. Childhood is not an idiosyncrasy. It may be that an adult, knowing of the resistant qualities of hardwood and of the uncertainty that a spike, not properly balanced as a dart, will stick into wood when thrown, would foresee that it might fail to do so and perhaps go off at a tangent. A person who knew, or might reasonably be expected to know, that might be held to be negligent if he were not more circumspect than was this infant defendant. But whatever the position would be if the facts were different, my conclusion on the facts of this case is that the injury to the plaintiff was not the result of a lack of foresight and appreciation of the risk that might reasonably have been expected, or of a want of reasonable care in aiming the dart. I find that Barry Watson was not negligent in the legal sense."