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Rylands vs. Fletcher (1868)

Strict negligence


Tuberville vs. Savage (1669)

The words spoken cancelled out what would otherwise have been an assault - the defendant had put his hand on his sword and said 'if it were not assize time, I would not take such language from you', meaning that he would have attacked the claimant if the (assize) judges had not been in the district. This was not an assault because the presence of the judges in the district meant that there was no prospect of the threat being carried out.


Donoghue vs. Stevenson (1932)


The claimant sued the manufacturer of the drink which contained a decomposing snail and which made her mildly ill for negligence, because the manufacturer owed a duty of care to the consumer of their products. The case also established the 'neighbour principle', which is one of reasonable foreseeability.


‘The Wagon Mound’ (Overseas Tankship Ltd vs. Mort’s Dock and Engineering Co Ltd (1961)

Reasonable foreseeability

Men employed by the defendants negligently spilt oil into Sydney harbour, which mixed with cotton waste/other debris and spread to the claimant's wharf where welding operations were causing sparks to fall into the water and so a fire. Although the fire was the direct result (the 'old test'), the Court held that the damage was not reasonably foreseeable (unknown that oil could catch fire in this way) and so too remote.
'You take your victim as you find him’


Smith vs. Leech Brain and Co. Ltd (1961)

'Thin skull’ rule

A worker had pre-malignant cancer of the lip which was activated when a blob of molten metal struck him through the negligence of a fellow employee, and he died of the disease. Although death from such an apparently trivial injury was quite unforeseeable, the employers were fully liable. Cases such as this are an exception to the general rule that no claim lies for damage which is not foreseeable.


Abouzaid vs. Mothercare (UK) Ltd (2001)

Remoteness of damage

A 12-year-old boy was left blind in his left eye after attempting to attach a sleeping bag to a pushchair. The sleeping bag had 2 elasticated straps and, when the boy attempted to buckle them together, they slipped from his grasp, recoiling and hitting his left eye. The case for negligence was dismissed as before the claimant was injured, there was no reason for anyone to think that someone using the sleeping bag could suffer this kind of accident. However, the claim did succeed on the basis of product liability under the Consumer Protection Act 1987. The court accepted that there was a defect in the product as no warning or instructions were included in the product by the manufacturer as to the incident occurred.


Hedley Byrne vs. Heller and Partners (1963)

Liability can arise in tort for negligent misstatement, and created a new category of liability in tort for pure economic loss

The claimants had contacted the defendants, who were bankers to a firm with which they were about to do business, for a reference. The defendants gave a good reference concerning the firm's credit-worthiness, although the document was headed by the words 'without responsibility' - a disclaimer of liability. The claimants acted on this misleading report (the firm was in trouble) and gave substantial credit, so that they lost heavily when the firm went into liquidation. They sued the defendants and the House of Lords held that the bankers would have been liable in negligence if they had not expressly disclaimed liability.


Spartan Steel and Alloys and Co. (Contractors) Ltd (1973)

No liability for pure economic loss

The defendants negligently cut through a cable carrying electricity to the claimant's factory, interrupting their power supply for 15 hours. Metal in the claimant's furnaces was damaged, reducing its value by £368. The claimants also claimed for £400 profit they would have made on this 'melt' and a further £1,767 for profit on 4 further melts which they would normally have completed in the time that the electricity was cut. The court held that they could recover only the loss in value of the metal actually in the furnaces and the profit on that metal (£768). The rest of the loss was a pure financial loss which was not related to any physical damage which the firm had suffered.


Page vs. Smith (1996)

Nervous shock - primary victims

It was held that a primary victim of this type need only prove that some form of injury was foreseeable in order to recover compensation. They do not have to establish foreseeability of psychiatric injury. In Page, the claimant suffered a reoccurrence of myalgic encephalomyelitis ('M.E') following a collision with a car negligently driven by the defendant. Whether this particular illness was foreseeable did not matter, given that some form of personal injury was foreseeable.


Alcock vs. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police (1992)

Nervous shock - secondary victims

The South Yorkshire police, who were responsible for policing the match, negligently allowed an excessive number of football supporters to enter the ground with the result that 96 people were crushed to death and many more injured. The cases of 16 claimants were considered by Alcock. They, themselves, had not suffered any bodily injury nor had they been at risk, but they had suffered psychiatric injury through witnessing the plight of others. The House of Lords held that in cases such as this, foreseeability alone was not a sufficient test of liability.


White vs. Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police (1999)

House of Lords held that the Chief Constable owed his police officers a duty to take reasonable steps to protect them from physical harm, but that duty did not extend to protecting them from psychiatric injury when there was no breach of duty to protect them from physical injury. In other words, 'rescuers' such as the police officers in question, who were not in any danger of physical injury themselves, were to be classified as 'secondary' victims. Accordingly, they would only recover damages if they were able to fulfil the additional control tests laid down by the House of Lords in Alcock, including a 'close tie of love and affection' with immediate victims.


Rylands vs. Fletcher (1868)

Strict liability

The defendant employed independent contractors to construct a reservoir on his land to supply water to his mill. In the course of construction, the contractors came across some disused mine shafts filled with earth which, unknown to the defendant and the contractors, communicated with the claimant's mine. After the work was completed, and the reservoir filled, one of the shafts gave way and water burst through the old workings, flooding the claimants colliery. It was found as a fact that the defendant had not been negligent. Nevertheless, the defendant was held liable and the judgment was confirmed by the House of Lords on appeal.


Transco Plc. vs. Stockport MBC (2004)

The House of Lords' decision in this case seems to establish that the Rylands vs. Fletcher rule applies where A has brought onto, or kept on, some land an exceptionally dangerous or mischievous thing in extraordinary or unusual circumstances. If the thing escapes from A's land and consequently damages B's land, and if the kind of damage that the thing causes is a kind that was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of such an escape, then B will be entitled to sue A for compensation for that damage unless A can raise a defence to B's claim. This type of claim is therefore relatively rare.


Barclays Bank vs. Various Claimants (2018)

The Court of Appeal upheld a 2017 High Court decision that Barclays Bank should be held liable for alleged sexual assaults committed by an independently contracted doctor. The High Court had applied the two stage test as laid down in Cox vs. MOJ (2016). The courts were satisfied that the 5 criteria applicable to stage one (as identified by Lord Philips in Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others vs. Various claimants and Others (2012) had been met.


Cox vs. MOJ (2016)

Two stage test for vicarious liability with an independent contractor:
1. Is the relevant relationship one of employment or 'akin to employment'?
2. Is the tort sufficiently closely connected with that employment or quasi employment?


Catholic Child Welfare Society and Others vs. Various claimants and Others (2012)

5 criteria for vicarious liability:
1. The employer is more likely to have the means to compensate the victim than the employee and can be expected to have insured against that liability.
2. The tort will have been committed as a result of activity being taken by the employee on behalf of the employer.
3. The employee's activity is likely to be part of the business activity of the employer.
4. The employer, by employing the employee to carry on the activity, will have created the risk of the tort committed by the employee.
5. The employee will, to a greater or lesser degree, have been under the control of the employer.


Involnert Management Inc vs. Aprilgrange Ltd (2015)

Whilst at first sight the producing broker's liability for the negligence of a placing broker seems to be a type of vicarious liability, Mr Justice Leggatt rejected this proposal in this case and held that it was a basic principle that a person is not vicariously liable for the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of an independent contractor. According to Leggatt, J as he then was, the producing broker may be held liable for the assured's loss (although the negligent act is that of the placing broker) under duties of 'non-delegable' kind, and liability would be co-extensive with what was contractually agreed.


British Railways Board vs. Herrington (1972)

Occupiers' liability for trespassers

British Rail were found liable when a child trespasser, in an area where children were known to play, climbed through a gap in their fence and was severely injured upon coming into contact with a live electrified rail. The House of Lords held, for the first time, that occupiers of land owed a duty of 'common humanity' to trespassers.


Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain vs. Boots Cash Chemists (1953)

True offer vs. invitation to treat

It was held that a customer did not accept an offer when he took items from the shelves of a self- service store. Taking the goods to the cashier was the offer to buy, which the cashier accepted when money was taken in payment.


Central London Property Trust vs. High Trees House (1947)

Promissory estoppel - consideration

The landlords of a block of flats had let them to the defendants at a rental of £2,500 a year.
Owing to the outbreak of war, the defendants could not find tenants for the flats and considered ending the lease. The claimants then agreed in writing to reduce the rental to £1,250 a year, with effect from 1941.
The defendants continued with the lease under these circumstances but in 1945, the claimants claimed again the original rent from 1941 on the basis that no consideration had been given for their agreement to reduce it.
The judge held that the claimants were entitled to the full rent from 1945 (since the agreement implied that the full rent should be payable when the abnormal war-time situation ended), but that it would be inequitable to allow them to go back on their promise and recover the full rent from 1941.
The defendants had relied on the promise to accept a lower rent and had acted upon it by reducing the rent payable by their own tenants during the period in question. They had therefore relied upon it to their own detriment.


Olley vs. Marlborough Court Ltd (1949)

Reliance upon an exemption clause

The claimant’s property was stolen when she stayed at the defendant’s hotel. Although there was a notice in the bedroom stating that the proprietors were not liable for any such loss, it was held to be ineffective because she saw it only after the contract was made at the reception desk.


Thornton vs. Shoe Lane Parking (1971)

The claimant completed a contract when he put a coin in the automatic ticket machine outside the defendant’s car park. The ticket referred to conditions displayed inside the car park, one of which sought to exempt the defendants from liability for injury to persons using the car park. It was held that the claimant (who was severely injured in an accident on the premises) was not bound by the conditions since they were brought to his attention after the contract was made.


Bates vs. Post Office Ltd (No.3 Common Issues) (2019)

The Network Transformation Contract (NTC) between the Post Office and sub-postmasters was disputed. The Post Office introduced an electronic point-of-sale and accounting system, which sub-postmasters were required to use. The sub-postmasters maintained that software defects resulted in unexplained shortfalls and accounting discrepancies. The NTC stated that the sub-postmaster should be fully liable for any loss however that occurred and whether it occurred as a result of any negligence by the sub-postmaster, its personnel or otherwise. The sub-postmasters were to pay any shortfall in full. The Post Office maintained that individual sub-postmasters had to prove that the shortfalls were not their individual responsibility. NTC were standard terms of business, a number of terms in the NTC failed the test for reasonableness in s.11(1) of the UCTA 1977 and the Post Office was not entitled to rely upon them.


Attwood vs. Lamont (1920)

Contracts in restraint of trade

A tailor and draper at Kidderminster employed the defendant (Lamont) under a contract stating that Lamont could not, on leaving his employment, carry on a business as a tailor within ten miles of Kidderminster. It was held that this restriction was merely to prevent the defendant from using his skill in competition with the claimant and was, therefore, void.


Forster & Sons Ltd vs. Suggett (1918)

Contracts in restraint of trade

The works manager of a glass-making company had agreed not to work for a rival firm for five years after leaving his present job. Here, the restraint was held to be valid because the manager knew of a secret manufacturing process which would be valuable to a rival.


Beresford vs. Royal Insurance Co. Ltd (1938)

Illegality in life insurance

Here the insured committed suicide, intending that the policy money be used to pay off his heavy debts, at a time when suicide was a criminal offence. It was held that the policy did cover suicide and that the insurers could extend the policy to cover acts of wilful misconduct if they wished (the first principle mentioned above). Nevertheless, the court held that public policy (the second principle) would prevent a recovery being made, because payment would allow the insured a 'benefit' from his criminal act in the sense that his estate would be freed from debts.


Geismar vs. Sun Alliance (1977)

Illegality in property insurance

The insured had not stolen the insured property (some items of jewellery) but had smuggled it into the UK without declaring it and paying the necessary excise duty: this made them liable to forfeiture. The items were subsequently stolen, but the court held that the claimant could not recover for the theft under his insurance as this would (at least indirectly) allow him to profit from his criminal act.


Gray vs. Barr (1971)

Illegality in motor/liability insurance

A man shot and killed his wife's lover. He had deliberately taken a loaded gun with the intention of frightening his rival, who was killed when the gun accidentally went off in a scuffle. He was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in the criminal trial but was successfully sued for damages by the wife of the dead man. He claimed an indemnity under the personal liability part of his household policy, but the court refused to allow him to recover because of a deliberate and dangerous use of the loaded gun. Recovery under insurance would be against public policy to allow him an indemnity against the consequences of his conduct.


Beach vs. Pearl Assurance Co. Ltd (1938)

Mistake - concerning the subject matter of the contract

The proposer wished to insure the life of her mother, Mary Ellen Ince, but the company's agent thought that the policy was to be on the life of her grandmother, Mary Ann Ince. The policy was issued in the name of Mary Ellen Ince but the details were appropriate to the grandmother and the premium was calculated on the basis of the grandmother's age. The Industrial Assurance Commissioner dismissed a claim for payment on the death of the mother because there was no consensus ad idem between the parties and a valid contract was, therefore, never made. The company agreed to return the premiums paid.


HIH Casualty & General Insurance Limited vs. JLT Risk Solutions Limited Lord (2007)

Law of agency - conflict of interest

'The role of an insurance broker is notoriously anomalous for its inherent scope for engendering conflict of interest in the otherwise relatively tidy legal world of agency. In its simplest form, the negotiation of insurance, the broker acts as agent for the insured, but normally receives his remuneration from the insurer in the form of commission; he may, in certain circumstances, act for both. Where there is reinsurance of an insured risk, the same broker may act on behalf of the insured in placing the insurance and on behalf of the insurer in placing the reinsurance.'