Jobling v Associated Dairies Ltd

March 05, 2024
Micheal James

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In 1973, Mr. Jobling, a butcher at Associated Dairies Ltd., slipped and fell at work, suffering a back injury attributed to employer negligence. This injury initially reduced his earning capacity by 50%. In 1976, however, an unrelated back condition – myelopathy – rendered him completely disabled. The key question became: to what extent was Mr. Jobling’s future loss of earnings attributable to the accident and subsequent employer negligence?


The case revolved around three central issues:

  1. Causation: Did the accident and employer negligence solely cause Mr. Jobling’s future loss of earnings, or did the unrelated myelopathy play a part?
  2. Damages: How should the court assess the compensation Mr. Jobling deserves, considering the supervening illness?
  3. Applicable Principles: Should established legal principles like “Baker v Willoughby” (compensating based on the hypothetical scenario without the intervening illness) be rigidly applied, or should a more flexible approach be adopted?


Mr. Jobling, backed by established legal precedent, argued that the myelopathy shouldn’t affect his compensation since it was a separate condition. He sought full future loss of earnings, claiming the accident significantly impacted his earning potential. However, Associated Dairies Ltd. countered that the myelopathy significantly contributed to his disability and should be factored into compensation. They asserted that damages should be limited to the period before the myelopathy diagnosis, advocating for a more flexible approach beyond rigid adherence to existing legal principles.


The House of Lords delivered a nuanced judgment, acknowledging both sides’ arguments. While recognizing the accident’s impact, they ultimately held Associated Dairies Ltd. liable only for the loss of earnings between the accident and the myelopathy diagnosis. The court deemed the myelopathy a “vicissitude of life” that would have impacted Mr. Jobling’s earning capacity regardless of the accident. This decision emphasized the need for flexibility in assessing causation and damages in cases with supervening illnesses, considering fairness and justice beyond rigid adherence to established principles.


The Jobling case holds significant implications for negligence claims with supervening illnesses. It highlights the challenges in determining causation and apportioning damages in such complex scenarios. The judgment sets a precedent for a flexible approach that weighs established legal principles against the specific circumstances of each case to ensure a fair outcome for both parties.

Further Discussion Points:

  • Potential impact: How might this case influence future negligence claims involving supervening illnesses?
  • Ethical considerations: Should employer liability be solely based on the initial accident, or should individual health factors be considered?
  • Evolving legal principles: How can legal principles adapt to address the complexities of causation in today’s medical landscape?


The Jobling v Associated Dairies Ltd. case demonstrates the intricate relationship between employer negligence, individual health, and legal principles in determining compensation. By acknowledging the need for flexibility while respecting established legal precedents, the judgment paves the way for fairer and more just outcomes in similar cases.

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