Dulieu v. White & Sons
By: Robin Pandey Date: 07/03/2022
The defendant's servant negligently drove a horse van into the public house and the plaintiff, a pregnant woman who was standing there behind the bar, although not physically injured, suffered nervous shock. Consequent upon this, she got seriously ill and gave birth to a child, born an idiot. The plaintiff filed a suit for damages resulting from the aforesaid nervous shock due to the negligence of the servant of the defendants.
Defendant's submissions: No action for negligence will lie where there is no immediate physical injury resulting to the plaintiff. The bodily harm suffered by the plaintiff was, in point of law, too remote a consequence of negligence of the defendant's servant.
Legal Issue: Whether the servant was negligent and whether the plaintiff has good cause of action for damages?
Court's Observations: In an action for negligence, it must be proved by the plaintiff that:
(i) the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff
(ii) the defendant made a breach of that duty: and
(iii) the plaintiff suffered damages as a consequence thereof.
Negligence: The servant was negligent for breach of duty to use reasonable and proper care in managing the defendant’s van. The servant owed an identical duty to use reasonable and proper care to all the persons either on the highway or the property adjoining the highway or the persons who like the plaintiff, were lawfully occupying that property. The legal obligations of the driver of the horses are the same towards the man indoors as to the man outdoors. The significant question however was whether there could be an action for nervous shock?
Mental shock: In order to sustain such action it is necessary to prove that resulting damage was a natural and continuous sequence uninterruptedly connecting the breach of duty as to cause and effect. In this case, the negligent driving of the defendant's servant reasonably and naturally caused nervous or mental shock to the plaintiff by her reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily hurt; and that the premature child birth with the physical pain and suffering which accompanied it was a natural and direct consequence of the shock. It was not every nervous shock occasioned by negligence and producing physical injury to the sufferer which would give rise to an action but the shock, where it operates through the mind, must be a shock which arises from a reasonable fear of immediate personal injury to oneself.
Remoteness of the damages: In the Victorian Rail Case (1888), the Privy Council observed that the damages arising from mere sudden terror unaccompanied by any physical injury but occasioning a nervous mental shock cannot under such circumstances be considered a consequence which in the ordinary course of things, would flow from negligence. The Court differed with the view of the Privy Council and maintained that a claim for damage for physical injuries naturally and directly resulting from nervous shock which is due to the negligence of another in causing fear of immediate bodily hurt is in principle not too remote to be recoverable in law. The Court noted that if this rule was not adopted, it would involve the denial of redress in meritorious cases.
The suit must be decreed in favour of the plaintiff.
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