The doctrine of remoteness of damage

The doctrine of remoteness of damage  

The doctrine of the remoteness of damage puts limitations on the liability of the defendant. The whole concept of the remoteness of damage is to determine up to what extent the defendant is liable for his actions in tort. No person can be made liable ad infinitum for all the consequences arising from his actions in tort.  

In law, a person is liable only for the consequences which are not too remote. One of the most important maxims of the doctrine of the remoteness of damage is “in jure non remota causa sed Proxima spectatur” which means that in law the immediate and proximate not the remote cause must be considered while deciding the liability.  

The law cannot take account of everything that follows a wrongful act. The defendant is liable only for the wrongful act if it has a direct connection with the act committed. There should be “causa causans” meaning the immediate cause of injury not “causa sine qua non” meaning cause without which the consequences would not have happened.  

For example, X, and Y involved in an argument in which X pushes Y who falls on the iron rod negligently left by C and gets injured. Here X pushing Y is causa causans which is the real cause of the event whereas the presence of iron rod is causa sine qua non which led the injury to happen.

 

Case – Scott v shepherd  

In this case, Mr. X threw a lighted a squib into a crowd it fell upon Mr. Y. Y in order to save himself threw it on Mr. Z and Mr. Z did the same thing and then it fell on C as a result C lost his eye vision. The court decided in this case that Mr. X was liable for the injury caused to C.  As his act was the proximate cause of damage even though his act was farthest from the damage in so far as the act of Mr. Y and Mr. Z had intervened in between.   

Test of the remoteness of damage  

There is basically two tests to determine the remoteness of damage. These are 

  1. Test of reasonable foresight 
  2. Test of directness 

 Test of reasonable foresight 

According to this test if a reasonable person could have foreseen the consequences of the act done and the consequence is not too remote then this is used to determine the liability. This test was upheld in the case of RIGBY V HEWITT (1850 5 Ex 240). Also, a reasonable person is a prudent man who takes all the precautions to avoid any kind of harm and is able to determine the consequences of his act. This test is also called a test of probability meaning a person is responsible for the probable consequences of his act. So, if X a person commits a wrong, he will only be liable for the consequences of the act which he could foresee, and anything which cannot be foreseeable is said to be too remote to claim the damage.

 

Test of directness  

The test of directness states that a person is only responsible for the direct consequences of his wrongful act, not the indirect one. Under this test whether a person could have foreseen the consequences of his wrongful act or not doesn’t matter because the consequences are not too remote and directly follows from the wrongful act. 

For example, if a person X hits a person Y on his leg with a rod in his hand due to which he gets a fracture on his leg. Here in this case the fracture is the direct consequence of X’s wrongful act so he is liable for his actions.

 

So, in a situation where the injury caused and the wrongful act are not connected or not linked together then there is no liability and the injury will be considered as too remote to claim the damage. 

Case-Smith v London and southwestern railway co. (1870) L.R. 6 C.P 14 

In this case, what happened was that spark from the railway engine set fire to the plaintiff’s cottage located 200 yards away from the engine, the spark was carried by the high wind as a result the cottage caught fire and the plaintiff suffered a huge loss.  

The court held the defendant liable even though the consequences of the act could not be foreseen. The reason given by the court was that there was a breach of duty by the defendant as they were negligent in handling the spark even though they couldn’t have anticipated the consequences the damage and the fire to the cottage was the direct result of the wrongful negligent act which caused the plaintiff to suffer the damage.  

Therefore, according to this case once the wrongful act is established the defendant is held liable for all the consequences which are directly related to the wrongful act of the defendant. This view makes the test of reasonable foresight irrelevant to determine whether there is negligence or not. 

When the damage is considered as too remote 

The damage is considered too remote when 

  1. There is not a necessary 
    result 
  2. There is contributory negligence of the plaintiff 
  3. When there is a wrongful act of the third party 

When there is not a necessary result 

If the wrongful act was done is such a nature that there is no relation between the act done and the consequences and the damage is considered as too remote. For example if Z hits a person Y and a person B somewhere far from the point suffers memory loss and B sues Z claiming damages. Here there is no relation between the wrongful and the harm suffered. Therefore, Z will not be held liable. 

When there is contributory negligence of the plaintiff 

When the damage caused is the result of the wholly or partially by the act of the plaintiff. Then the damage suffered is considered too remote. 

When there is a wrongful act of a third party. 

If the damage caused is the result of the act of any third party such as could not naturally be contemplated as likely to spring from the defendant’s conduct.   

Author: Rohit Soni,
NMIMS Kirit P Mehta School of Law, First year student

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