Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw – 1956

March 07, 2024
Micheal James

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The case of Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw (1956) serves as a significant precedent in the realm of tort law, particularly regarding the legal principles surrounding causation and liability for industrial diseases. This case, heard in the House of Lords, delved into the complexities of negligence and established important legal precedents that continue to influence tort law jurisprudence.


In 1956, Mr. Wardlaw, an employee of Bonnington Castings, contracted pneumoconiosis—a lung disease caused by exposure to silica dust—due to his work environment. Wardlaw alleged that his employer’s negligence in failing to provide adequate protection against silica dust exposure led to his illness, resulting in his claim for damages.

Legal Issues:

The primary legal issue in Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw was whether the employer’s failure to eliminate or reduce exposure to silica dust constituted a breach of duty of care. Additionally, the case raised questions about causation and the extent of liability when the claimant’s injury is caused by multiple factors, including the employer’s negligence.

Facts of the Case:

Mr. Wardlaw had worked in an environment where he was exposed to silica dust, a known health hazard. Despite knowledge of the risks associated with silica dust exposure, Bonnington Castings failed to implement adequate measures to protect its employees from harm. As a result, Wardlaw developed pneumoconiosis, a debilitating lung disease.

Arguments Presented:

Bonnington Castings argued that while they may have contributed to Wardlaw’s exposure to silica dust, they were not liable for his illness as it was caused by a combination of factors, including non-negligent exposure outside of the workplace. Wardlaw contended that his employer’s negligence substantially contributed to his illness and therefore should bear responsibility for the resulting harm.

Court’s Decision:

The House of Lords ruled in favor of Wardlaw, establishing that Bonnington Castings’ failure to eliminate or minimize the risk of silica dust exposure constituted negligence. The court held that the employer’s breach of duty of care substantially contributed to Wardlaw’s illness, making them liable for the resulting harm.

Legal Precedents and Significance:

Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw established the principle of “material contribution” to causation, whereby a defendant may be held liable for harm if their negligent conduct materially contributes to the claimant’s injury, even if other non-negligent factors also contributed. This case clarified the law on causation in negligence claims involving industrial diseases and set an important precedent for future cases.

Impact and Implications:

The decision in Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw had significant implications for employers’ liability in cases involving industrial diseases and occupational health hazards. It underscored the duty of employers to take reasonable steps to protect employees from known risks and emphasized the importance of accountability for negligent conduct leading to harm.


Bonnington Castings v Wardlaw (1956) stands as a landmark case in tort law, particularly in defining the legal principles surrounding causation and liability for industrial diseases. By establishing the concept of material contribution to causation, this case provided clarity on the extent of liability in negligence claims involving multiple contributing factors. It remains a pivotal precedent in shaping the legal landscape of employer responsibility and occupational health.

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