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Remoteness of Damage

  1. In law, the damage must be direct and the natural result of the consequence of the act of the defendant. Otherwise, the plaintiff will not succeed. This is “In jure non remota causased proxima spectatur” (In law the immediate, not the remote cause of any event that is to be considered). The reason for this is that the defendant is presumed to have intended the natural consequences, but not the remote damage. It means then that the defendant’s act must be the ‘Causa Causans’ or the proximate (near) cause.
  2. Novus actus interveniens : (new act intervening)
    The act and the consequences are to be connected directly and the defendant will not be liable for Novus actus interveniens and the consequences thereof.
    Scott V. Shepherd (Squib case)
    D threw a lighted squib into a crowd. It fell on X. who threw it further, It fell on Y who threw it away. It fell on P, exploded and blinded one eye. Held, D was liable to P. Though X and Y, had inter-vened , D’s act was the ‘Causa Causans’. The defendant pleaded novus actus intreveniens but the court rejected this defence. In Haynes V. Harwood, the unattended horse van of D started running as some boys had thrown stones at the horse. The policeman who attempted to stop the horse was injured. Held, D liable. The contention that the throwing of stones was an intervening cause and hence D was not liable, was rejected by the court.
  3. Direct damage. Two tests to find out direct damage.
    1. The test of reasonable foresight.
    2. The test of directness.

The test of reasonable foresight means that the liability of the defendant extends only to those consequences, which could have been foreseen by a reasonable man. This theory was rejected in 1921, and the second theory was applied in re Polemis and Furnace Ltd. In this case, D chartered P’s vessel to carry a cargo which included petrol. Some cases were leaking and there were vapours of petrol. D’s servants while shifting cargo, negligently knocked at a plank which fell rubbing the wood and got ignited. As a result the entire vessel caught fire and was destroyed. Held, D was liable. It was due to the negligence of D’s servants that the fire had broken out and hence D was liable for all the consequences, even though those could not reasonably have been anticipated.

This theory was rejected in the Wagon Mound Case 1960. there is a return to the old reasonable foresight test.

The Wagon Mound, an oil-tanker vessel, was chartered by D and had been mored at Sydney (Australia) harbour. At a distance of about 600 feet, P had a wharf, where repairs of a ship were going on. Due to the negligence of D’s servants, oil spilt from the wagon Mound, spread over to the wharf where P was making some welding opera-tions. P’s manager stopped his welding work, enquired D whether he could safely continue the welding. D assured no danger. P’s manager himself believed that the oil was non-inflammatory on water, and continued welding work. Two days later molten metal from the wagon Mound fell on cotton waste, ignited and caused a great damage to the wharf and the equipment.

The Privy Council in England, held that D (Wagon Mound) was not liable.

The Court applied the test of reasonable foresight and rejected the direct rule theory. It overruled Re Polemis case. It said ‘after the event a fool is wise. But, it is not the hind-sight of a fool, it is the foresight of a reasonable man which alone can determine responsibility’.

What the reasonable man ought to foresee, corresponds with the common conscience of mankind and hence, the test of reasonable foresee ability must be applied. Judged from this, it was held not liable.

This decision has been aproved in a recent case Hughes V. Lord Advocate (1963)

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