Remoteness of Damages – Test of Directness & Test of Reasonable foresight

Remoteness of Damages

The remoteness of damages is covered under the Law of Torts. It refers to the situation when the damages caused by the defendant’s act are too remote to be anticipated. The wrongful act committed by the wrongdoer can lead to endless consequences or there may be “consequences of consequences”.

For example, A person was driving a car on the bridge negligently while talking on the call. Due to his negligence, an old man standing on the side of a road got  injured, his family members ran to rescue him but unfortunately a truck was coming from another side and in order to save his family members the truck driver steered left and hit the railing of the bridge and fell into it. The question is can the car driver be liable for all these consequences. The whole incident was too remote to be anticipated by the defendant. He acted negligently so he would be liable for only those consequences which were not too remote to be anticipated. The defendant can’t be held liable ad infinitum for all the consequences.

Proximate and Remote Damage

If the damage caused by the act of the defendant is too remote to be anticipated then the defendant won’t be held liable. On the other hand if the act of the wrongdoer and the consequences are connected to each other and if they are proximate then the defendant will be held liable for it.

Illustrations:-

Lampert vs. Eastern National Omnibus Co.

In this case the married woman was injured and that injury resulted in the severe disfigurement due to the negligence of the defendants. After sometime she was secluded by her husband. She claimed damages for the same but later on it was found that the real cause of the desertion of the plaintiff was not her disfigurement p between the plaintiff and her husband. defendants were not held liable on that account.

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Haynes vs. Hardwood

In this case the servant of the defendant negligently left a horse unattended in a crowded Street and the children started throwing stones at the horses which made him bolt. a policeman attempted to stop them with a view to rescue the woman and the children on the road and he got severely injured. The case was filed by the plaintiff against the negligible act done by the defendants. The defendants pleaded the defence of novus actus interveniens i.e. remoteness of consequences. The plea was dismissed by the court on the ground that the damages were proximate not remote. because it can be anticipated that the children might throw stones on a horse which might trigger him.  The plaintiff has suffered damages by the act of the defendant. Hence, they were held liable.

Two tests of Remoteness

There are two parameters on which the court decided whether a damage is remote or proximate.

  • Test of reasonable foresight
  • Test of directness

The test of reasonable foresight

According to this test, if the consequences of a wrongful act done by the wrongdoer could have been foreseen by the common man of reasonable intelligence that they are not too remote. The concept of the test of reasonable foresight was first propounded by the Pollock C.B. in the case Rigby vs. Hewitt and Greenland vs. Chaplin. He stated that the liability of the defendant arises only for those damages which could have been foreseen by a common person with reasonable intelligence placed in the circumstances of the wrongdoer. but it was not proved to be a sufficient offence in itself and instead relies upon the court to decide upon the standards or reasonability where that the constituency should have been foreseen by a defendant or not later on the test of reasonable foresight lost its popularity and test of directness took its place.

The Test of Directness

Re Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd.

This case is a landmark judgement given by the honorable Court on the test of reasonable foresight. The case is popularly known as the Re Polemis case. The court of appeal conceded the test of reasonable foresight to be the relevant test.

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In this case pendants chartered hi shape and the cargo had to be carried by them which included a quantity of benzene and petrol which was stored in tins. Due to the leakage in those tins some oil flowed out and collected in a hold of the ship. Due to the negligence of the defendant’s servants, a plank fell into the hold which cost spark and subsequently the ship was totally destroyed by fire. The owners of the ship claimed to recover the loss caused by the destruction of the ship which was nearly 200000 pounds. The Privy Council held that it was the direct consequence on the defendant’s servants’ negligence. Although they have  been reasonably foreseen. According to Scrutton, L.J, The damage was indirectly caused by the negligence of a person even though spark in an atmosphere of petrol vapour caused a fire.

Smith vs. London and South Western Railway Co.

In this case, the railway company appointed a person to trim hedges and grass growing at the side of the railway line but the company was negligent enough in allowing a person to collect all the leftover material near the railway line during the dry weather. Then, due to a spark from the railway engine, it set fire on the material and the plaintiff’s cottage burnt. The defendants were held liable because it could have been foreseen by the reasonable man.

Wagon Mound Case

The Wagon Mound was an oil burning vessel, chartered by the Overseas Tankship Ltd. Ship stopped at Sydney port to take fuel oil. The respondent’s wharf, Morts Dock Company was situated at a distance of 600 feet, where wielding operations were going on. A large quantity of fuel oil got deposited on the water due to the negligence of the defendant’s servants.  The water was carried to the wharf on which fuel oil was spilled. Thereafter, from the respondent’s wharf molten metal fell on the floating cotton fabric, the water on which oil got deposited caught fire and the fire caused great damage to the wharf and equipment. The incident took place after 60 hours from the departure of the ship.

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Plead was to make that the act was too remote to be anticipated by the defendants. Privy Council found the appellants guilty by applying the rule of test of directness. They Further stated that if the whole scenario had been asked from the ordinary man of reasonable intelligence without any detailed analysis of the circumstances, he would allege appellants to be responsible.

The Supreme Court of the New South Wales overruled the judgment of Privy Council and said the Re-Polemis case is not a valid ground and can not be regarded as a good law as well. It has no governing authority to decide the case in the favour of the appellants and they were not found guilty of an act.

Afterwards there were many cases which were decided on the basis of Wagon Mound.

Hughes vs. Lord Advocate

In this case, a mainhole was left covered by the tent. One evening surrounded by the lamps but otherwise unguarded. The mainhole was opened for the purpose of maintaining underground telephone equipment by the post office employees.

Eight years old child started playing with one of the lamps. The lamp and the boy fell into the manhole which resulted in severe injuries to him. The House of Lords held that it could be foreseen that anyone may be burnt by tampering with the lamp and the explosion was an unforeseeable event. Hence, the defendants were proved guilty.

References:-

Cases:-

  • Haynes v. Harwood (1935) 1 K.B. 146.
  • Rigby v. Hewitt (1850) 5 Ex. 240.
  • Greenland v. Chaplin (1850) 5 Ex. 243.
  • Re Polemis and Furness, Wilthy & Co. (1921) 3 K.B. 560.
  • Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd. v. Morts Dock and Engg. Co. Ltd. (1961) A.C. 388.
  • Hughes v. Lord Advocate (1963) AC 837.

Books:-

  • K. Bangia, Law of Torts (Allahabad Law Agency, Faridabad, 24th edn., 2017).

Websites:-

Author:

Roshni Agarwal, Amity Law School, Noida.

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