Haynes v Harwood

March 04, 2024
Micheal James

Jurisdiction / Tag(s):

Introduction to Haynes v Harwood

On a bustling London street, duty and danger collided in the 1936 case of Haynes v Harwood. Constable Haynes, patrolling his station, witnessed a scene of potential chaos: runaway horses careening through the throngs of people. His swift action averted disaster, but it came at a personal cost. This case, decided by the English Court of Appeal, would not only determine Mr. Haynes’ compensation but also redefine legal responsibility in the face of public peril and courageous intervention.

Facts of the Case

Mr. Haynes, a dedicated police constable, stood guard within the confines of his station. Outside, the busy street hummed with activity, a familiar rhythm disrupted by the sudden clatter of hooves. Mr. Harwood’s company owned the source of the commotion – two horses pulling a van, left unattended while the driver sought respite in a nearby shop. Startled by a passing vehicle, the horses bolted, transforming the van into a runaway chariot bearing down on the unsuspecting crowd.

Witnessing the unfolding danger, Mr. Haynes’ instincts as a protector kicked in. He sprinted from the station, adrenaline and duty propelling him into the path of the onrushing steeds. With a display of courage, he managed to bring the horses to a halt, saving countless pedestrians from potential harm. However, his victory came at a price – the horses’ desperate struggle left him injured.

Arguments of the Parties

Mr. Haynes: Battered but resolute, Mr. Haynes sought legal redress. He argued that Mr. Harwood’s company was blatantly negligent in leaving the horses unattended in such a densely populated area. This negligence, he claimed, directly caused the danger he faced and the subsequent injuries he sustained. His actions, he contended, were not reckless but rather a “reasonable rescue” attempt, a direct consequence of the defendant’s failure to act responsibly. He emphasized his duty as a police officer to protect the public, highlighting the unfairness of penalizing him for fulfilling his sworn oath due to another’s negligence.

Mr. Harwood’s company: The defendant, however, painted a different picture. They denied any negligence, claiming that the horses were generally placid and the sudden bolt was an unforeseeable event beyond their control. They challenged the applicability of the “reasonable rescue” doctrine, arguing that Mr. Haynes was not in immediate danger himself and therefore his actions were not directly caused by their negligence. Further, they invoked the ancient legal principle of “volenti non fit injuria” (to a willing person, injury is not done), implying that Mr. Haynes voluntarily chose to intervene and thus assumed the risk of injury.

Court’s Holding and Reasoning

The Court of Appeal, in a landmark judgement, sided with Mr. Haynes. Lord Wright, in his insightful ruling, established a crucial precedent. He recognized the legal duty to prevent harm, even to third parties, when a foreseeable risk exists. This expanded the scope of duty of care beyond oneself, placing emphasis on preventing harm to the public at large.

The court acknowledged the principle of “reasonable rescue” and found that Mr. Haynes’ actions were both justified and directly linked to the defendant’s negligence. Lord Wright convincingly dismissed the “volenti non fit injuria” argument, declaring that Mr. Haynes’ duty as a police officer outweighed any presumed voluntary assumption of risk.

Analysis and Impact

Haynes v Harwood stands as a towering landmark in English tort law. It significantly impacted the understanding of negligence and liability in rescue situations, creating a ripple effect across legal doctrines and public perception. The case’s significance lies in its several critical contributions:

  • Expanding the Scope of Duty of Care: The judgement emphasized the responsibility to prevent foreseeable harm not only to oneself but also to others, extending the legal net wider and promoting a stronger sense of communal well-being.
  • Strengthening Rescuer Protection: By recognizing the “reasonable rescue” concept, the court provided legal protection for individuals who bravely intervene to prevent harm, encouraging selfless acts in the face of danger.
  • Establishing the “Rescuer Principle: Haynes v Harwood laid the foundation for the “rescuer principle” within English law, allowing rescuers injured while acting in good faith to seek legal recourse for their damages.
  • Enduring Legal Precedent: The case’s influence extends beyond its immediate context. It continues to be cited in legal proceedings involving negligence, rescue, and public duty, shaping legal interpretations and offering guidance to courts in similar situations.


Haynes v Harwood transcends the confines of a legal dispute, resonating with a profound message about duty, responsibility, and courage. It reminds us that the law, while sometimes seen as rigid, can adapt to the complexities of human interaction, acknowledging the selfless acts of those who choose to face danger to protect others. The case stands as a testament to the enduring power of good faith and the value placed on protecting our fellow citizens. It reminds us that sometimes, acting with courage and fulfilling our civic duty comes at a personal cost, and the law has a responsibility to recognize and compensate for such sacrifices. Haynes v Harwood remains a beacon of hope, encouraging us to prioritize public safety and celebrating the heroism of those who step forward in times of crisis.

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