Fletcher v Autocar and Transporters Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date17 January 1968
Judgment citation (vLex)[1968] EWCA Civ J0117-1
Date17 January 1968
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Plaintiff Respondent
Autocar & Transporters Limited
Defendants Appellants

[1968] EWCA Civ J0117-1


The Master of the Rolls

(Lord Denning)

Justice Diplock and

Lord Justice Salmon

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

Civil Division

From Mr. Justice Cantley

MR R. M. BINGHAM, Q. C. and MR T. H. PIGOT, Q. C. (instructed by Messrs William Easton & Sons, Agents for Messrs Percy Hughes & Roberts, Liverpool) appeared as Counsel for the Appellants.

MR D. HODGSON, Q.C. and MR R. LEECH (instructed by Messrs Weightman Pedder & Co.) appeared as Counsel for the Respondent.


On the 4th July, 1964, Mr. William Henry Fletcher was driving his car along the A.6 road from Preston to Lancaster. The defendants' lorry came round a bend on the wrong side of the road and ran into him. He had a severe head injury and broken shoulder and four broken ribs. He was unconscious for four or five days. He was in hospital for a long time. The broken ribs mended. The broken shoulder left him disabled. His head did not mend. His brain has been gravely affected. The defendants admit liability. The question is what damages should be awarded. The Judge has awarded him £66, 447. 9s, 6dThe defendants' appeal, saying that it is too much.


Mr. Fletcher was born in May 1908. So he was just over 56 at the time of the accident. He was a chartered quantity surveyor and a senior partner of a long-established firm in Liverpool. He worked hard and played hard. His life was a full one which he lived with energy and zest. He earned £3,000 or £4,000 a year net after paying his tax. He spent all he earned and saved nothing. His wife was active in local affairs and a magistrate. They have a son, grown up, who lives in New Zealand.


The accident was a catastrophe for Mr. Fletcher. His mind has gone but his body is still there. He is likely to live his normal span of another sixteen years, sitting in a chair all day long, doing nothing, feeling little, and forgetting everything. No happiness. No sadness. Just existing. He is utterly dependent upon his wife. He has to be dressed in the morning. He takes little interest in food. He tends to stuff his mouth, full and then has difficulty in swallowing it. When he stands, he does so very slowly, when asked to walk, he shuffles across the room with very short stiff steps. The doctor says of him: "He has apparently become more or less stabilized at a very low level of intellectual and emotional capacity and still suffers from a semi-paralysis of the right side. He is in need of constant care and attention and I am afraid he willalways be so". He is at present at home being looked after by his wife. But the strain on her is so great that she will only be able to do it for about three years. Then he will have to go into a mental home for the rest of his days. It will be the Cheadle's Royal Infirmary, which is an institution of high standing.


The Judge considered the case with the greatest care and assessed compensation for various items separately. He reached these figures:-

1. Special Damages Nursing home and hospital fees from 4th July 1964 to date, traveling expenses of wife and son, telephone calls and all incidental expenses agreed at


Additional help in the house from 26th November 1966 to 12 June 1967 (date of trial)



Loss of earnings from date of accident to 12th June 1967 (date of trial)



2. Loss of Future Earnings Loss of future earnings as senior partner from date of trial (12th June 1967) for 10 years to retirement at age of 69 from position of senior partner (May 1977). During those ten years estimated net earnings (after payment of tax) would be £4,000 a year

(say) £29,600

After retirement he would have continued for a year or two (1977 to 1979) doing some work for the firm with a smaller share

(say) 2,400


3. Additional Expenses Mrs. Fletcher will be able to look after him at home for three years from June 1967 to June 1970, but thereafter she will be unable to do so. He will then have to go into the Cheadle's Royal Infirmary for the rest of his days. His expectation of life at date of trial was 16 years. So he would be at Cheadle's Royal from 1970 to death in 1983.

Extra cost of keeping him at home for three years (£9 a week), plus cost of short stays at Cheadle's Royal to give Mrs. Fletcher a break. In all £650 a year for three years - 1967-1970

(say) £1,750

Cost of keeping Mr. Fletcher from June 1970 for the rest of his days (13 years) at Cheadle's Royal. Fees £1,419 a year, less saving on food and laundry at home of £300 a year, making extra expense of £1,119 a year for 13 years. But the fees may go up in the future

(say) £12,250


4. Pain and Suffering and Loss of Amenities The Judge recognised the difficulty of assessing this item in money. "Money is not an equivalent to enjoyment of life, and damages at this point become conventional and artificial"



The total of those items comes to £66,447. 9s.6d. The Judge said: "I find it a daunting figure". He also recorded this argument against it: "Mr. Bingham has argued that, while it is right that I should take each of these four matters into account, if adding them together results in an exceptionally high or daunting figure, common sense requires that I should then revise the total figure. I do not think this can be right' So he gave judgment for the full figure, saying: "Although I am conscious of the high figure I have reached - suspicious perhaps that I may have overlooked something I ought to have taken into account - I propose to adhere to the total which I have already announced".


Whilst I acknowledge the care which the Judge devoted to this case, I think that his conclusion was erroneous. In the first place, I think he has attempted to give a perfect compensation in money, whereas the law says that he should not make that attempt. It is an impossible task. He should give a fair compensation. That was settled 90 years ago by the case of Phillips v. London & South Western Railway, (1879) 4 Queen's Bench Division, p. 406: 5 Queen's Bench Division, p. 78. Dr. Phillips was an eminent physician making £6,000 or £7,000 a year. He was so severely injured in a railway accident that he was reduced to utter helplessness with every enjoyment of life destroyed, Mr. Justice Field in summing up to the jury said (5 Q.B.D. at p.79): "In actions for personal injuries of this kind it is wrong to attempt to give an equivalent for the injury sustained. I do not mean to say that you must hot do it, because you are the masters and are to decide; but I mean that it would operate unjustly, and in saying so I am using the language of the great Baron Parke, whose opinion was quoted with approval in Rowley'scase. Perfect compensation is hardly possible, and would be unjust. You cannot put the plaintiff back again into his original position". This direction was approved by Chief Justice Cockburn, who added another reason (4 Q.B.D. at p. 407): "The compensation should be commensurate to the injury sustained. But there are personal injuries for which no amount of pecuniary damages would afford adequate compensation, while, on the other hand, the attempt to award full compensation in damages might be attended with ruinous consequences to defendants. Generally speaking, we agree with the rule as laid down by: Mr. Justice Brett in Rowley's case that a jury in these cases 'must not attempt to give damages to the full amount of a perfect compensation for the pecuniary injury, but must take a reasonable view of the case, and give what they consider under all the circumstances a fair compensation"'. Those passages were quoted with approval by Lord Devlin in West v. Shephard. 1964 Appeal Cases at p. 356, and undoubtedly represent the law. It is true that in these days most defendants are insured and heavy awards do not ruin them. But small insurance companies can be ruined. Some have been. and large companies have to cover the claims by their premiums. If awards reach figures which are "daunting" in their immensity, premiums must be increased all the way round. The impact spreads through the body politic. Consider also the position of the plaintiff. He is the one person entitled to be compensated. What good does all this money do for poor Mr. Fletcher? He cannot use it all by any means. Halve it. Still he cannot use it in his lifetime. In order to give him fair compensation, I should have thought that he should be given a sum which would ensure that he would not, within reason, want for anything that money could buy; and that his wife should be able to live for the rest of her life in the comfort that he would have provided for her; and that any savings that he would have made if uninjured would be available for his family.


In the second place, I think that the Judge was wrong to take each of the items separately and then just add then up at the end. The items are not separate beads of compensation. They are only aids to arriving at a fair and reasonable compensation. That was made clear by the decision of this Court in Watson v. Powles, 1967, 3 Weekly law Reports, p. 1364, given after the Judge had given his judgment. "There is only one cause of action for personal injuries, not several causes of action for the several items. The award of damages is therefore an award of one figure only, a composite figure made up of several parts. At the end all the parts must be brought together to give fair compensation for the injuries". There is, to my mind, a considerable risk of error in just adding up the items. It is the risk of overlapping. I can best explain this by supposing that Mr. Fletcher instead of being a married man was a bachelor aged 56, unlikely to marry, who earned £4,000 a year and spent...

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1 books & journal articles
    • Nigeria
    • DSC Publications Online Sasegbon’s Judicial Dictionary of Nigerian Law. First edition D
    • 6 February 2019
    ...loss of earnings or more strictly, a sum representing his loss of future earning capacity (see Fletcher v. Autocar & Transporters (1968) 2 Q.B. 322 (C.A.)." - Per Fatayi- Williams J.S.C. in Samuel Obere v. The Board of Management Eku Baptist Hospital Suit No. S.C. 376/1976; (1978) 11 N.......

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