Wilkinson v Downton

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtQueen's Bench Division

Action - Cause of - Nervous Shock - Practical Joke causing - Remoteness of Damage.

The defendant, by way of a practical joke, falsely represented to the plaintiff, a married woman, that her husband had met with a serious accident whereby both his legs were broken. The defendant made the statement with intent that it should be believed to be true. The plaintiff believed it to be true, and in consequence suffered a violent nervous shock which rendered her ill:—

Held, that these facts constituted a good cause of action.

Victorian Railways Commissioners v. Coultas, (1888) 13 App. Cas. 222, and Allsop v. Allsop, (1860) 5 H. & N. 534, considered.

FURTHER CONSIDERATION before Wright J. after trial with a jury.

On April 9, 1896, Thomas Wilkinson, the husband of the plaintiff, went to a race-meeting, and on the evening of the same day the defendant came to the plaintiff's house and represented to her that her husband, while returning in a wagonette with some friends from the races, had met with an accident and had both his legs broken, that he was lying at The Elms public-house at Leytonstone, and had desired the defendant to request the plaintiff to go at once with a cab and some pillows to fetch him home. These statements were false. They were meant by the defendant to be believed to be true, and the plaintiff so believed them, with the result that she became seriously ill from a shock to her nervous system. She also on the faith of the defendant's statement incurred a small expense for railway fares of persons whom she sent to Leytonstone to see after her husband. The jury assessed the expense of the railway fares at 1s. 10½d., and the damages for the injury caused by the nervous shock at 100l.

It was contended on behalf of the defendant that so far as the damage caused to the plaintiff by nervous shock was concerned the action could not be supported.

Warburton, and A. N. Talbot, for the plaintiff.

Abinger, for the defendant.

WRIGHT J. In this case the defendant, in the execution of what he seems to have regarded as a practical joke, represented to the plaintiff that he was charged by her husband with a message to her to the effect that her husband was smashed up in an accident, and was lying at The Elms at Leytonstone with both legs broken, and that she was to go at once in a cab with two pillows to fetch him home. All this was false. The effect of the statement on the plaintiff was a violent shock to her nervous system, producing vomiting and other more serious and permanent physical consequences at one time threatening her reason, and entailing weeks of suffering and incapacity to her as well as expense to her husband for medical attendance. These consequences were not in any way the result of previous ill-health or weakness of constitution; nor was there any evidence of predisposition to nervous shock or any other idiosyncrasy.

In addition to these matters of substance there is a small claim for 1s. 10½d. for the cost of railway fares of persons sent by the...

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1 firm's commentaries
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