Cookson v Knowles

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date25 May 1977
Judgment citation (vLex)[1977] EWCA Civ J0525-3
Docket Number1976 C No. 147
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date25 May 1977
Audrey Cookson (Widow) (Administratrix of the estate of Frank Cookson deceased)
Edward John Knowles

[1977] EWCA Civ J0525-3


The Master of the Rolls (Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Lawton and

Lord Justice Bridge

1976 C No. 147

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

On Appeal from the High Court of Justice

Queen's Bench Division

Preston District Registry

(Mr. Justice Reeve)

MR. P. ASHWORTH Q.C. and MR. M. KERSHAW (instructed by Messrs. Hextall, Erskine & Co., Solicitors, London, agents for Messrs. Keogh, Ritson & Co., Solicitors, Bolton) appeared on behalf of the Defendant (Appellant).

MR. C.D.R. ROSE Q.C. and MR. A. JOLLY (instructed by Messrs. White & Leonard, Solicitors, London, agents for Messrs. Blackhurst, Parker & Yates, Solicitors, Preston) appeared on behalf of the Plaintiff (Respondent).


The Judgment I am about to read is the judgment of the court.


On 14th December 1973, Frank Cookson was killed in a motor accident. It was in Chapel Hill, Longridge, Lancashire. He was a passenger in a car when another car ran into it. The driver was afterwards convicted of dangerous driving and disqualified for ten years.


His widow claimed damages under the Fatal Accidents Acts for herself and her three children. Her husband was aged 49 and she was 45. They had three children, two daughters, aged 16 and 13, and a son aged 12. They lived at Chipping, a village of about 1,000 people, in a remote part of the fells of Lancashire. The husband had been there all his life. Ever since he left school he had worked as a woodwork machinist with a local firm who made chairs. He was earning at his death £1,820 a year. His wife was a cleaner at a school in Chipping for 32 hours a week. She was earning £900 a year. But she could not do it without her husband's help. He used to see to the boiler, clean the high windows, and such like tasks. They were man's work which she could not do. After her husband was killed, she was unable to find any other man in the place to help her. So she had to give up her work at the school. She has a car and took a job as a shop assistant in Longridge, five miles away. It was part-time, 4 ½ hours a day for five days. But she found it tiring and expensive, and gave it up. There was work available at a mental hospital but she did not want to work there. There were advertisements in the local paper, but she did not make inquiries into them. She said that she only looked at them "whenever anyone has given me a paper". The judge found that, as a result of her husband's death, her earning capacity was wholly destroyed, but we do not think the evidence supports that finding. At the time of the trial, the childrenwere aged 19, 15 and 14. So she should have been able to do part-time work at least, especially as the children were away all day, at work or at school.




The judge took the combined earnings of husband and wife as they would have been at the date of the trial had he lived:-

Husband's earnings … … £2,18

Wife's earnings … … £1,056



He then took the dependency as two-thirds of that sum, giving a figure of £2,250. He took a multiplier of 11, thus giving a capital sum of £24,750.


He then gave interest at 9% on the £24,750 from the date of death, 14th December 1973, to the date of trial, 27th May 1976, making a total of £5,412.32 interest.




Mr. Ashworth, for the insurance company, urged that the earnings of the husband - and consequent dependency - should be ascertained as they were in fact at the date of his death: and that they should be multiplied by the appropriate multiplier for his age and prospects.


Mr. Rose, for the widow, urged that they should be taken at the date of the trial: and then multiplied by the appropriate multiplier.


We think that they should be taken at the date of trial. That is shown by The Swynfleet (1948) 81 Lloyds Reports, 116. The practice has been for years (as we said in Jefford v. Gee (1970) 2 Queen's Bench at page 441):-"…. to award one lump sum calculated by taking the yearly pecuniary loss and multiplying it by the number of years' purchase". That practice was convenient when there was little inflation. But now that inflation hasbecome rampant and looks like continuing, the practice should be altered. The pecuniary loss to the widow and children should be divided into two parts: the one part being from the date of death to the date of trial; the other part being from the date of trial onwards into the future. That is the way in which the loss of earnings are divided in cases of personal injuries when the injured man sues. His loss of earnings is divided into two parts: the first part being included in the special damages up to the date of trial; the second part being the loss of future earnings from the date of trial onwards. Likewise now in Fatal Accidents Cases. Otherwise you would get injustice done to the defendants. Suppose, as here, the husband's earnings at the date of death are £1,820: and at the date of trial £2,318. If you take eleven years' purchase (as being the approximate multiplier from the date of death) and then apply it to the £2,318, you would give too much for the 2 ½ years between the date of death and the trial. The correct way, in times of inflation, is to divide the award into two parts: the first part being the actual pecuniary loss up to the date of trial: the second part being future pecuniary loss from the date of trial onwards. The first part can be calculated arithmetically, just like special damages. The second part should be calculated by taking the earnings which the deceased would have been receiving at the date of trial, and then using an appropriate multiplier. In determining this multiplier, no regard should be had to the possible, nay probable, inflation ahead of us. At one time it was said that future inflation could be off-set by wise investment of the capital sum so as to give capital appreciation: see Taylor v. O'Connor (1971) Appeal Cases at page 141 by Lord Pearce. This has been disproved by later events. Nevertheless the law is that future inflation is to be disregarded - see Young v. Percival (1975) 1 Weekly Law Reports at pages 27 to 29:and this was accepted by both counsel before us.


In Jefford v. Gee, in 1970, we said that, in personal injury cases, when a lump sum is awarded for pain and suffering and loss of amenities, interest should run "from the date of service of the writ to the date of trial". At that time inflation did not stare us in the face. We had not in mind...

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