Pickett v British Rail Engineering Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtHouse of Lords
JudgeLord Wilberforce,Lord Salmon,Lord Edmund-Davies,Lord Russell of Killowen,Lord Scarman
Judgment Date02 Nov 1978
Judgment citation (vLex)[1978] UKHL J1102-1

[1978] UKHL J1102-1

House of Lords

Lord Wilberforce

Lord Salmon

Lord Edmund-Davies

Lord Russell of Killowen

Lord Scarman

Pickett (Administratrix of the Estate of Ralph Henry Pickett Deceased)
(Appellant)
and
British Rail Engineering Limited
(Respondents)
Pickett (Administratrix of the Estate of Ralph Henry Pickett Deceased)
(Respondent)
and
British Rail Engineering Limited
(Appellants)
[conjoined Appeals]

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee to whom was referred the Cause Pickett (Administratrix of the estate of Ralph Henry Pickett deceased) against British Rail Engineering Limited, That the Committee had heard Counsel as well on Monday the 12th as on Tuesday the 13th, Wednesday the 14th and Thursday the 15th days of June last upon the Petition and Appeal of British Rail Engineering Limited whose Registered Office is at 274/280 Bishopsgate, London EC2M 4XQ praying that the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 14th day of November 1977 so far as regards the words "increasing the award of damages to the sum of £17,410.14 (Seventeen thousand four hundred and ten pounds fourteen pence)" and also the words "as to £10,000 (Ten thousand pounds) General Damages" might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament and that the said Order so far as aforesaid might be reversed, varied or altered and that the Petitioners might have the relief prayed for in the Appeal or such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament might seem meet; as also upon the Case of Joan Kathleen Pickett lodged in answer to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 14th day of November 1977 complained of in the said Appeal be, and the same is hereby, Reversed so far as regards the words "increasing the award of damages to the sum of £17,410.14 (Seventeen thousand four hundred and ten pounds fourteen pence)" and also the words "as to £10,000 (Ten thousand pounds) General Damages" and that the Order of the Honourable Mr. Justice Stephen Brown of the 12th day of October 1976 varied by the Court of Appeal be, and the same is hereby, Restored so far as regards the award therein of General Damages of £7,000: And it is further Ordered, That the Respondent Mrs. Pickett do pay or cause to be paid to the said Appellants the Costs incurred by them in respect of the said Appeal to this House, the amount of such Costs to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments if not agreed between the parties: And it is also further Ordered, That the Cause be, and the same is hereby, remitted back to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice to do therein as shall be just and consistent with this Judgment.

Upon Report from the Appellate Committee to whom was referred the Cause Pickett (Administratrix of the estate of Ralph Henry Pickett deceased) against British Rail Engineering Limited, That the Committee had heard Counsel as well on Monday the 12th as on Tuesday the 13th, Wednesday the 14th and Thursday the 15th days of June last upon the Petition and Appeal of Joan Kathleen Pickett of 35, Western Road, Chandlers Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire praying that the matter of the Order set forth in the Schedule thereto, namely an Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 14th day of November 1977 so far as regards the words "seventeen thousand four hundred and ten pounds fourteen pence" and the words "no interest thereon" and also the words "(One thousand five hundred and eight pounds eighty eight pence) in respect of loss of future earnings" might be reviewed before Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament and that the said Order so far as aforesaid might be reversed, varied or altered and that the Petitioner might have the relief prayed for in the Appeal or such other relief in the premises as to Her Majesty the Queen in Her Court of Parliament might seem meet; as also upon the Case of British Rail Engineering Limited lodged in answer to the said Appeal; and due consideration had this day of what was offered on either side in this Cause:

It is Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in the Court of Parliament of Her Majesty the Queen assembled, That the said Order of Her Majesty's Court of Appeal of the 14th day of November 1977 complained of in the said Appeal be, and the same is hereby, Set Aside so far as regards the words "(Seventeen thousand four hundred and ten pounds fourteen pence)", and the words "no interest thereon" and also the words "One thousand five hundred and eight pounds eighty-eight pence in respect of loss of future earnings": And it is further Ordered, That the Order of the Honourable Mr. Justice Stephen Brown of the 12th day of October 1976 varied by the Court of Appeal be, and the same is hereby, Restored so far as regards the award therein of £787·50 interest on the General Damages: And it is further Ordered, that the Cause be, and the same is hereby, Remitted back to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in order that in accordance with the majority opinions expressed in this House an assessment may be made of the damages which ought to be awarded in respect of loss of future earnings: And it is also further Ordered, That the Respondents British Rail Engineering Limited do pay or cause to be paid to the said Appellant the Costs incurred by her in respect of the said Appeal to this House, the amount of such Costs to be certified by the Clerk of the Parliaments if not agreed between the parties.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords,

1

This appeal raises three questions as to the amount of damages which ought to have been awarded to Mr. Ralph Henry Pickett ("the deceased") against his employer, the respondent, for negligence and/or breach of statutory duty.

2

From 1949 to 1974 Mr. Pickett was working for the respondent in the construction of the bodies of railway coaches, which work involved contact with asbestos dust. In 1974 he developed symptoms which proved to be of mesothelioma of the lung, of which he later died.

3

On 14 July 1975 he issued a writ against the respondent claiming damages for personal injuries or physical harm. The respondent admitted liability but contested the issue of quantum of damages. The case came for trial before Stephen Brown J. who on 12 October 1976 awarded damages under various heads. Those in issue in this appeal were three: (1) £7,000 by way of general damages in respect of pain, suffering and loss of amenities; (2) £787.50 as interest on the £7,000 at 9 per cent from the service of the writ; (3) £1,508.88 as a net sum in respect of loss of earnings. This sum was based on a finding that the deceased's expectation of life had been reduced to one year from the date of trial, and the loss of earnings related to that period i.e., the period of likely survival. The judge also awarded £500 for loss of expectation of life, and the total for which he gave judgment was £14,947·64.

4

Mr. Pickett appealed to the Court of Appeal against this judgment, but before the appeal was heard he died. An order to carry on the proceedings was made in favour of his widow as administratrix of his estate. The appeal was heard in November 1977. The Court of Appeal did not award any sum for loss of earnings beyond the survival period but increased the general damages award to £10,000, without interest.

5

The appellant now appeals to this House contending that a much larger amount ought to have been awarded in respect of loss of future earnings. She also claims that interest should be awarded on the general damages. The respondent appeals against the award of £10,000 general damages.

6

In 1974, when his symptoms became acute, the deceased was a man of 51 with an excellent physical record. He was a champion cyclist of Olympic standard, he kept himself very fit and was a non-smoker. He was leading an active life and cycled to work every day. He had a wife and two children. There was medical evidence at the trial as to his condition and prospects, which put his then expectation of life at one year: this the judge accepted. There can be no doubt that but for his exposure to asbestos dust in his employment he could have looked forward to a normal period of continued employment up to retiring age. That exposure, for which the respondent accepts liability, has resulted in this period being shortened to one year. It seems, therefore, strange and unjust that his claim for loss of earnings should be limited to that one year (the survival period) and that he should recover nothing in respect of the years of which he has been deprived (the lost years). But this is the result of authority binding on the judge and the Court of Appeal— Oliver v. Ashman [1962] 2 Q.B. 210. The present is, in effect, an appeal against that decision.

7

Oliver v. Ashman is part of a complex of law which has developed piecemeal and which is neither logical nor consistent. Judges do their best to make do with it but from time to time cases appear, like the present, which do not appeal to a sense of justice. I shall not review in any detail the state of the authorities for this was admirably done by Pearce L.J. in Oliver v. Ashman. The main strands in the law as it then stood were:

(1) The Law Reform Miscellaneous Provisions Act 1934 abolished the old rule "actio personalis moritur cum persona" and provided for the survival of causes of action in tort for the benefit of the victim's estate.

(2) The decision of this House in Rose v. Ford [1937] A.C. 826 that a claim for loss of expectation of life survived under the Act of 1934, and was not a claim for damages based...

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