R v. Benge (1865) 4 Foster and Finlason 504;
The defendant was the foreman of a group of plate-layers contracted to repair, take up, and replace the rails at a railway. He was given a time book with train schedules to enable him to time the repairs to avoid accidents.
The present case arose when the defendant misread the time book and took out the rails close to the time a train was scheduled to arrive. In addition to this mistake by the defendant, a workman was also sent with a flag to go 1000 yards down the track so he could signal an incoming train to stop. Instead of going the full 1000 yards, the worker only decided to go 540 yards. It was established that within a 1000-yard distance, a train signalled to stop could stop but could not do so within 540 yards.
A train soon used the rails, and an accident occurred because the train driver was also found to have been negligent in some way. The defendant was charged with gross negligence manslaughter.
Whether or not the defendant is absolved of criminal liability owing to the negligent acts of the train driver and the flagman
Argument of the Defendant:
That the accident would not have happened but for the contributory negligence of the flagman and the train driver.
The defendant was still liable for the accident despite the contributory acts of the flagman and train driver.
The defendant’s negligence was found to be the substantial cause of the accident. If he had properly read the timebook, and despite the negligence of the train driver and the flagman, no accident would have occurred. The fact that he misread the time book was substantially the cause of the accident.
Principle:de minimis non curat lex,
the law ignores insignificant details. Thus, in deciding causation, the acts of the accused must be the substantial cause of the event.