A British Government body had carried out a research project on wells in Bangladesh. When they had completed the project they also did some work testing the water within wells in Bangladesh. They supplied the results of the test to various Bangladeshi Government organisations.
By coincidence the Bangladeshi Government was also installing shallow wells to supply drinking water in rural areas.
Unfortunately many of the wells supplied by the Government were contaminated with arsenic. Huge numbers of people were poisoned – the situation was described as “the greatest environmental disaster that had ever happened”.
The claimant was one of those affected by arsenic in his drinking water. Solicitors brought the case on his behalf and many others were contemplating action.
The House of Lords said the claim was hopeless.
The claimant said that his Government had relied on the survey to pass the water as safe. However, at the time, there was no knowledge or suspicion about the presence or danger of arsenic within wells and no tests had been undertaken to find that. Nor had the Bangladeshi Government asked for or relied on this report in their project to supply drinking water.
The classic test in negligence in deciding whether a claim is owed a duty of care remained to ask:
a. Whether the damage had been reasonably foreseeable;
b. Whether there had been sufficient proximity between the claimant and the defendant and
c. Whether it was fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty
The damage was not foreseeable as no one knew arsenic was present in the wells.
There was no proximity at all between a survey coincidentally made at the same time drinking water was supplied to the claimant where no arrangement existed between the surveyor and the provision of drinking water and thus the claimant. In the absence of any proximate relationship it could not be fair to impose a legal case on the defendant.
Sutradhar -v- Natural Environment Research Council. House of Lords, 5 July 2006