Flint v Lovell

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date1935
Date1935
Year1935
CourtCourt of Appeal
[COURT OF APPEAL] FLINT v. LOVELL. [1934. F. 353.] 1934 Nov. 6, 23. GREER, SLESSER and ROCHE L.JJ.

Damages - Negligence - Personal injuries - Expectation of life - Whether shortening of expectation can be considered in the assessment of damages.

A plaintiff met with an accident through the negligence of the defendant and sustained serious personal injuries whereby the expectation of his life was materially shortened. The plaintiff brought an action to recover damages for the injuries he had sustained:—

Held (by Greer and Slesser L.JJ., Roche L.J. dubitante), that in assessing the damages the judge was entitled to take into consideration as one of the elements of damage the fact that the plaintiff's normal expectation of life had been materially shortened.

APPEAL from a decision of Acton J.

The plaintiff brought an action against Mr. and Mrs. Lovell to recover damages for personal injuries caused by the negligence of the female defendant in driving a motor-car so as to bring it into collision with the plaintiff's car, with the result that he suffered serious personal injuries.

There was no dispute as to the liability of the defendants to pay damages, and the amount of 400l. was agreed as the amount of the special damage which the plaintiff was entitled to recover.

ACTON J. in delivering judgment said: In this case a gentleman of 70 years of age, who, according to the evidence, which I accept, was a man in good health and good condition for a man of his years, who was living an exceptionally active and energetic life and was able to do so without the slightest inconvenience, met with this terrible accident, as a result of which, as I find, his life will be very materially shortened, and he is now unhappily, according to the unanimous testimony of the doctors whom I have heard in this case, not expected to live very long — probably something under a year.

It is a most difficult thing to estimate damages in those circumstances, and I agree with Mr. O'Sullivan that all one can do is to endeavour to approach it as a special jury might be expected to approach it. There is no doubt that he suffered terribly as the result of this accident; there is no doubt that he will go on suffering from the effects — although of course the acute pain is now over — until the time arrives when he dies as a result of the accident. There is no doubt that he has lost the prospect of an enjoyable, vigorous and happy old age which I am satisfied on the medical testimony might have gone on for a number of years if this unhappy accident had not occurred.

The special damages are agreed at a sum of 400l. I award the plaintiff the sum of 4400l. and for that I give judgment with costs.

The defendants appealed. The appeal was heard on November 6, 1934.

Maurice Healy K.C. and N. R. Fox-Andrews for the appellants. The amount of the damages which the judge awarded is so large that the judge must have given damages for the shortening of the plaintiff's life. That element cannot be taken into account in the assessment of damages for personal injuries. It was laid down in Baker v. BoltonF1 and reaffirmed by the House of Lords in Admiralty Commissioners v. Owners of S.S. AmerikaF2 that in a civil court the death of a human being cannot be complained of as an injury. If the death of a human being cannot, apart from statute, give a right of action it is difficult to see how the shortening of life can give such a right of action or constitute an independent head of damage. Further, if such a sum as has been given as damages in the present case can be given for the shortening of the life of a man aged 70, a young man or a man of middle life would have to be given damages on a much larger scale for the shortening of their lives. The shortening of a man's life cannot be taken into account at all as an independent head of damages; it can only be taken into account in assessing damages by reason of the increased suffering caused to the man by his knowledge of his impending death.

Richard O'Sullivan K.C. and Gerald Gardiner for the respondent. The Court is entitled to take into account the shortening of the plaintiff's life in assessing the damages to which he is entitled for his personal injuries due to the female defendant's negligence. It was held in Fair v. London & North Western Railway Co.F3 that a jury in assessing compensation for personal injuries occasioned by negligence should take into consideration (inter alia) the injury the plaintiff has sustained in his physical capacity of enjoying life. Field J. in directing the jury in Phillips v. London & South Western Railway Co.F4 said: “An active, energetic, healthy man is not to be struck down almost in the prime of life, and reduced to a powerless helplessness with every enjoyment of life destroyed and with the prospect of a speedy death, without the jury being entitled to take that into account.” That direction was not disapproved by the Court of Appeal. The principle laid down by Lord Ellenborough in Baker v. BoltonF5 that “in a civil court, the death of a human being could not be complained of as an injury,” which was followed in Osborn v. GillettF6 and in Admiralty Commissioners v. Owners of S.S. AmerikaF7 does not arise in the present case, because in those cases death had supervened whereas in the present case the plaintiff has not died. A living person is complaining of the damage that he suffers by reason of the shortening of his life.

Cur. adv. vult.

1934. Nov. 23. The following judgments were read:—

GREER L.J. This is an appeal from the judgment of Acton J. whereby he awarded to the plaintiff the sum of 4400l. as damages for personal injuries caused by the negligence of the female defendant in driving her motor-car so as to bring it into collision with the plaintiff's car, with the result that he suffered grave personal injuries. There was no dispute as to the liability of the defendants to pay damages, and the amount of 400l. was agreed as the amount of the special damage which the plaintiff was entitled to recover.

The learned judge came to the conclusion on the facts given in evidence, that before the accident the plaintiff was a man in good health and in good condition for a man of his years. There was some evidence that he had before the accident had heart trouble, but that was contradicted by the evidence of the plaintiff's witnesses, which the learned judge accepted, and I think we must deal with this case as the case of a man who for his age, which at the time of the accident was 69 and at the time of the trial 70, a man of ordinary health who might in the ordinary course be expected to live for at least eight or nine years, subject of course to the average risks of human life. In giving judgment the learned judge said that he found that the plaintiff's life would be very materially shortened, and that at the date of the trial he was unhappily, according to the testimony of the doctors, not expected to live for long, probably something under a year. In the conclusion of his short judgment the learned judge said: “There is no doubt that he has lost the prospect of an enjoyable, vigorous and happy old age which I am satisfied on the medical testimony might have gone on for a number of years if this unhappy accident had not occurred.” He then awarded the plaintiff 4000l. in addition to the agreed amount of special damages.

It is unnecessary to state in any detail the evidence as to the results of the accident upon the plaintiff. I think we ought to accept the judge's finding that by reason of the accident the plaintiff's future was reduced to pain and suffering for a year with, a certainty of additional medical and nursing expenses, and the high probability that by reason of the injuries caused by the defendant's negligence he would be dead within a year. If it was open to the judge to take into account the probability of early death, though this is a border line case, I do not think it can be said that the damages which he awarded, though somewhat on the generous side, are such that the Court of Appeal ought to interfere with his decision and reduce the damages.

The question that arose for consideration during the argument, on a suggestion that came from the Court, was whether, having regard to the decision in the case of Admiralty...

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