What is an omission and how can it come up in a legal claim?

An omission is a general term for a failure to act, but it can have broad connotations in day to day life and the implications of such actions vary from situation to situation. In law however, omissions can become a very tricky business, as more often than not another is harmed as a result of the failure to act and thus retribution may be in order.

Our legal definition of an omission is:

“An act that was pre-agreed but failed to act upon. More so when there was a duty to the individual or the public with the said act.”

Omissions are more common than thought in legal disputes yet are not something typically associated with crime. Most people would link crime with a blatant criminal act such as burglary, assault or even murder however, an act of omission can also arise in legal claims and potentially land yourself in trouble as such an act can endanger yourself and/or others.

What is an example of an omission?

An example of a textbook omission is if one walks past a car collision and can see that both parties are severely injured, yet makes no attempt to help nor call emergency services. This failure to act could be seriously damaging to the lives of others and may even be fatal.

There are a number of omissions which are actually criminal charges within themselves, e.g. failing to report a car incident; but omissions can surface in any situation when an individual is affected to your actions, or rather lack of.

Is it an omission, or not?

There are a number of scenarios in which one might wonder whether they have committed an omission, to make things clearer, some have been drawn up below:

Scenario: A railway crossing keeper failed to close the gates to shut the gates, resulting in an individual being struck by a train and killed.

Omission, or not?: The railway crossing keeper had a duty of care to protect the public from passing trains, they failed to act upon this and the death of another was the consequence, therefore this is an example of an omission.

Scenario: A squatter was residing in an abandoned building, lit a cigarette and accidentally set fire to the mattress. They moved to another building without reporting the incident and the building later burned down.

Omission, or not?: The fire was the fault of the individual and they failed to act upon their mistake which warrants an omission. This case is actually case law (R v Miller (1983)) and the defendant was charged with Arson due to his negligence.

Scenario: A gentleman’s wife asks if she looks okay in what she’s wearing, he barely pays attention and simply nods. She leaves the house with her dress inside out and is very cross upon finding out and realising he failed to tell her.

Omission, or not?: This is a typical definition of omission, the failure to act. However, this would not amount to a legal omission (no matter how irritated the wife is)!

Is an omission punishable?

It is a long debate amongst legal bodies as to whether omissions should be treated and punished as if they were physical crimes but the debate has not yet warranted a single answer.

There are some omissions that are chargeable, and some that are not. In serious cases, punishments can even result in prison sentences, e.g. from manslaughter due to an omission. In other cases, omissions can be overlooked if it is evident that the individual intended no harm from their failure to act and was genuinely unaware of the situation.
Duty of care also plays a big role in omissions, and is another part of the law which can result in conviction if abused. If one has a duty of care over another (for example, a guardian of a child) and commits an act of omission which results in said child being hurt then they can become guilty and can be consequently charged as a result of this failure to pay due care and attention. Duty of care is often legally binding and abusing that can result in court cases.

If you think you may be guilty of an omission then DPP Law is on hand to offer A class legal advice and support, get in touch with us today and see what we can do for you.