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Negligence occupies a prominent place in modern tort law. This was not always the case: until the early 20th century, while there was a well-developed law of Trespass, a person who had suffered loss or damage indirectly was left to pursue a residual Action on the case, or 'action in case'. There were few unifying features of such actions, so it was difficult to advise the wronged party even whether he had a cause of action or not. Various attempts were made by the courts to make some order out of the morass of cases, but the most celebrated, and influential, was Lord Atkins' speech in Donoghue v stevenson (1932). In this case, he expounded the 'neighbour principle': that a man has a 'duty of care' to those people whom it is reasonably foreseeable that his actions will affect. If he fails adequately to discharge that duty, then he will be liable for any adverse consequences that flow from his failure.
This judgement did not immediately catch the attention of other judges; it took about a decade before the 'neighbour principle' became entrenched in judicial thinking. When it did, the law of negligence largely assumed the form it has today. In brief, to sustain a claim in negligence, the claimant must show that
- he was owed a Duty of care by the defendant, and
- the the defendant was in Breach of the duty of care, and
- the breach was the cause of the cause of the the defendant's loss or injury (see Causation in negligence).