Watson v Powles

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Judgment Date06 July 1967
Judgment citation (vLex)[1967] EWCA Civ J0706-1
Date06 July 1967

[1967] EWCA Civ J0706-1

In The Supreme Court of Judicature

Court of Appeal

Civil Division

From Mr Justice Cusack


The Master of the Rolls (Lord Denning)

Lord Justice Winn and

Mr Justice Baker

William Watson
Alan Powles

MR GEOFFREY HOWE, Q. C, and MR A. C. LAURISTON (instructed by Messrs Russell Jones & Walker) appeared as Counsel for the Appellant.

MR E. W. EVELEIGH, Q. C, and MR B. STEPHEN (instructed by Messrs Herbert Smith & Co.) appeared as Counsel for the Respondent.


The question in this case is the amount of damages. Mr William Watson was employed as a benchman by the South Durham Steel Co. He was walking across a pedestrian crossing in Middlesbrough when he was struck by a motorscooter. His back was injured. He was off work for a few weeks. He then went back to light work. At first his injury was not thought to be serious. But it turned out to be worse than was thought. He suffered pain and was off work from time to time. In February 1965, as it did not clear up, he had an operation on his back. It appears that the discs had been injured in the accident. He had a laminectomy operation. It did not do much good. He had a lumbar puncture and a disc removed. But he did not get much better. He still has a good deal of pain in his legs and in the lower part of his back. He is unable to do heavy work. He is only able to do light work. His earnings are reduced by £400 a year. It has been suggested he should have another operation. Meanwhile he has to wear a special spinal jacket which relieves the pain.


The Judge summarised the case in this way: "It is abundantly clear to me that his whole life has been changed by this unhappy accident and that he has been transformed from an active man, enjoying his hobbies and capable of doing quite strenuous work to a man who is a cripple, capable of only doing light work, and who will, for the rest of his days, not be capable of doing heavy work, and who will, even if this further operation is successful, for the rest of his days endure some pain".


At the time of the accident he was 32 years of age. He is now 36. His earnings are, reduced by £400 a year. The special damage for his loss of earnings from the time of the accident up to the date of trial was agreed at £1.531. 14s.7d. The question is how much should be given for the general damages to cover his pain and suffering and the loss of amenities and to cover his loss of future earnings. The Judge awarded a totalsum of £8,000. He did not go in to the details. The plaintiff appeals on the ground that it is too little. The defendant cross appeals on the ground that it is too much.


Mr Geoffrey Howe made a general submission which is of some importance. He said that the Judge ought to divide up the general damage into its separate heads. A Judge ought to say how much he awarded for the past pain and suffering up to the date of trial; then how much for the future pain and suffering and loss Off amenities for the rest of his days then how much he awarded for the future incidental losses when he is off work in the future; and then how much for the reduction in his earnings for the rest of his life. Mr Howe says if that were done, it would be far more satisfactory to the parties and he suggested that a more just result would be achieved.


We have often had to consider such a suggestion. In the old days, when damages were assessed by juries, there could be no question of sub-division. A jury gave one award of general damage. In modern times, when damages are assessed by Judges sitting alone, this Court has discouraged Judges from going too much into detail. When I was a Judge of first instance, this Court told me it was a mistake to sub-divide the amount. On the whole I think this is right. 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. Some of the parts may be capable of being estimated in terms of money, such as loss of future earnings. Others cannot truly be estimated in money at all but must proceed on a conventional basis, such as compensation for pain and suffering and loss of amenities, see Ward v. James, 1966, 1 Queen's Bench, at page 296. At the end all the parts must be brought together to give fair compensation for the injuries. If a man is awarded a very large sum for loss of future earnings, it may help to compensate him for his future pain and suffering. If he hasno loss of earnings, he may be more generously compensated for pain and suffering. And so forth. Just as a jury in the old days would award an overall figure, so may a Judge today. The invariable direction to juries in fatal accident cases was "that they 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", see Rowley v. London & North Western Railway Co. (1873) Law Reports, 8 Exchequer at page 231 by Mr Justice Brett. Likewise in personal injury cases a Judge is to give what is, in all the circumstances, a fair compensation. Every Judge, when working out the sum, notes down the item and calculates so much for loss of future earnings, so much for pain and suffering, and the like. That gives him a starting point. But there are so many uncertainties and intangibles involved that in the end he has together all the items together and give a round sum. So I do not agree with Mr Howe's contention. It is not the Judge's duty to divide up the total award into separate items. He may do so if he thinks it proper and helpful, but it is not his duty to do so.


The next point which Mr Howe took was also important. He submitted it should be the general practice to work out the loss of future earnings on an actuarial basis with the assistance. if need be, of an actuary. This may sometimes be helpful, but I do not think it should be the general practice. Take this case. Mr Howe put before us some figures giving the average working life of a working man. It would be more useful if he gave us the average life of a benchman with the South Durham Steel Company, and that was not available. If actuaries were called in on these cases, it would add much to the time and expense of the trials and there...

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