Act of God – Law of Torts – Notes

Act of God – It is an operation of natural forces so unexpected that no human course or skill could reasonably be expected to anticipate it.

In order for an event to be classified as Act of God following criteria has been prescribed in Transco PLC v Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council ([2003] UKHL 61):

  • which involve no human agency
  • which is not realistically possible to guard against
  • which is due directly and exclusively to natural causes and
  • which could not have been prevented by any amount of foresight, plans, and care.

Nichols v Marsland [(1876) 2 ExD 1]- Defendant formed artificial lake by damming up natural system. An extra ordinary and violent thunderstorm broke down the artificial barriers and water escaped destroying the bridge. It was held that defendant is not liable due to act of God.

Inevitable Accident – Law of Torts – Notes

Inevitable Accident – It means an unexpected injury which could not have been avoided in spite of a reasonable care on the part of the defendant.

Holms v. Mather [(1875) LR 10 Ex 261] :- If the driver is not able to control the horses which are startled by a barking dog and the plaintiff is thereby injured, the defendant will not be liable.

Fardon v Harcourt-Rivington  [(1932) 48 TLR 215]- The defendant left his dog inside his parked car. The broke the glass in the rear window of the car which hit the plaintiff, resulting in the loss of one of his eyes. The House of Lords held that the chance of a passer-by being hurt by a splinter of glass was so small that a reasonable man would not guard against it, so the defence of inevitable accident was accepted.   

Contributory Negligence – Law of Torts – Notes

Contributory Negligence – It is a defence to a claim based on negligence, an action in tort. It applies to cases where plaintiffs have, through their own negligence, contributed to the harm they suffered. In certain jurisdictions of U.S. contributory negligence is a complete defence even if the plaintiff is at 1% fault.  In U.K. contributory negligence is a partial defence with damages being reduced as per the plaintiff’s contribution towards the tort. In certain jurisdictions plaintiff fault towards the tort must be less than 50% in order to get a claim.

Butterfield v. Forrester [103 Eng. Rep. 926 (K.B. 1809)] – Plaintiff was thrown off his horse and injured after he struck a pole. Defendant had put the pole across part of the road for the purpose of making some repairs to his house. Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence. The plaintiff was not allowed damages as the court held that Plaintiff had used ordinary care, he would have seen the obstruction. Thus, no damages were provided due to contributory negligence on part of the plaintiff.

Froom v. Butcher ([1975] 3 AllER 520) – Plaintiff was driving with his wife and daughter, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. They were on the right side of the road when defendant pulled out to pass and struck them head on leading to plaintiff injuring his head and chest. The injury suffered would have been of a lesser degree had plaintiff used a seat belt. Seatbelts were not legally required at the time.  The court held that not wearing a seatbelt by the plaintiff amounts to contributory negligence even if he is not required by the law to wear them and thereby damages were reduced.

Trespass – Law of Torts – Notes

Trespass to Land – Trespass is the voluntary, intentional or negligent, direct physical interference with plaintiff’s exclusive possession of land. It is actionable per se without proof of damage.

 Dumont v Miller [(1873) 4 ALJR 152]- Defendant with his dogs went on plaintiff’s property. Plaintiff sued defendant even though there was no damage. Plaintiff was awarded damages.

 Defence to Trespass to Land –

  • Authority by Grant/Leave or Party
  • Re-Entry by Owner
  • Entry to bring back cattle
  • Entering for abetment of nuisance
  • Execution of legal process

 Trespass to goods – Voluntary, intentional act by the defendant which directly interferes with goods in plaintiff’s possession.

Penfolds Wines v Elliot [(1946) 74 CLR 204]- Plaintiff sought an injunction against the defendant, who offered bulk wine to customers in any bottles they brought. Plaintiff had embossed statement on bottles that they were Plaintiff’s property and to be returned to Plaintiff if empty. No injunction was granted on grounds that there was no evidence of tortious behaviour being continued thus there is no suitable remedy.

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Malicious Prosecution – Law of Torts – Notes

Malicious Prosecution – Malicious prosecution consists in instituting unsuccessful criminal proceedings maliciously and without reasonable and probable cause. When malicious prosecution through criminal proceedings causes actual damage to the party prosecuted, it is a tort for which he can bring an action.

Essentials of Malicious Prosecution

  • Prosecution by the defendant – Prosecution means criminal proceedings against a person in a court of law.
  • The absence of reasonable and probable causes – The plaintiff has also to prove that the defendant prosecuted him without reasonable cause.
  • Malice – It is also for the plaintiff to prove that the defendant acted maliciously in prosecuting him.
  • Termination of proceedings in favour of the plaintiff – It is also essential that the prosecution terminates in favour of the plaintiff.
  • Damage – It has also to be proved that the plaintiff suffered damage as a consequence of the prosecution complained of.

Smt. Manijeh v. Sohrab Peshottam Kotwal – The lawyer was misled and was provided with such facts which the defendant knew to be false. In the prosecution on the basis of such advice, this was held to be want of reasonable and probable cause and also malice for which the defendant was held liable.

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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – Law of Torts – Notes

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – It has three elements:

  • Extreme and outrageous conduct,
    Defendant must act intentionally or recklessly to cause the severe emotional distress, and
  • Reckless—Defendant must be aware and consciously disregard a substantial risk
    Risk—gross deviation from standard of care
    Doesn’t have to be aimed at specific person
  • Intentional—intent is not transferable has to harm the person aimed at
    Must cause such distress
    Don’t need professional evidence but do have to prove

Wilkinson v. Downton [2 Q.B. 57 (1897)] – Defendant played a practical joke on the plaintiff by telling her that her husband had been seriously injured in an accident and was lying in a ditch with broken bones. The plaintiff on hearing this suffered a violent shock to her nervous system resulting in weeks of suffering and incapacity.  The court held that a party may seek recovery for outrageous conduct that causes physical harm or mental distress.

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Defamation – Law of Torts – Notes

Defamation is a statement calculated to escape a person to hatred, contempt or ridicule or to injure him in his trade, business, profession, calling or office. It is of two types i.e. libel and slander.

Libel is a form of defamation in permanent form such as written documents. It in itself is infringement of plaintiff’s rights and no actual damage is required.

Yousoupoff v. M.G.M. Pictures Ltd.[(1934) 50 TLR 581] – The movie figuratively showed plaintiff’s wife being seduced by someone else. It was decided that in a cinema film, not only the photographic part is considered to be a libel but also the speech which synchronises with it is also a libel.

Innuendo – Explanatory averment in the statement of claim defining the meaning which plaintiff assigns to the complained of or specifying the plaintiff as the person to whom they apply.

Cassidy v. Daily Mirror ([1929] 2 KB 331) – The defendant published a photo in which plaintiff’s husband was posing with a girl and published that the husband will marry this girl. This implied that plaintiff was a kept off and hence suit was found to be maintainable and plaintiff was awarded damages.

Slander is the defamation is an oral or transient form addressed to the ear. Slander may be uttered in the heat of the moment and under sudden provocation. In India, Slander is both a tort and crime but in England slander is civil wrong only. Slander is the defamation in a transient form, whether audible, as in spoken words, or visible, as in the case of gesture. Slander is actionable only if plaintiff is able to show special damages. (Frank Flaman Wholesale Ltd. v. Firman [1982] S.J. No. 279)

The following are defence to defamation-

Truth – In a defamation case, the defendant can only be held liable if the statement involved was false. A true statement does not meet the legal requirements for defamation.

Absolute Privileges – Some defendants are protected from liability in a defamation action based on the defendant’s position or status. Absolute privileges apply to the following proceedings and circumstances:

  • judicial proceedings
  • legislative proceedings
  • some executive statements and publications
  • publications between spouses
  • publications required by law

 Conditional/Qualified Privileges – These privileges do not arise as a result of the person making the communication, but rather arise from the particular occasion during which the statement was made. These privileges are known as conditional, or qualified, privileges. Conditional privileges apply to the following types of communications:

  • A statement that is made for the protection of the publisher’s interest
  • A statement that is made for the protection of the interests of a third person
  • A statement that is made for the protection of common interest
  • A statement that is made to ensure the well-being of a family member
  • A statement that is made where the person making the communication believes that the public interest requires communication of the statement to a public officer or other official
  • A statement that is made by an inferior state officer who is not entitled to an absolute privilege

 Reynolds v Times Newspapers Ltd ([2001] 2 AC 127) – The Plaintiff, an Irish politician sued defendants for an article published in their newspaper. The Plaintiff claimed that the words in the article bore the meaning that he had deliberately lied to mislead his cabinet colleagues. The Defendants pleaded the defence of qualified privilege. The court refused to accept the defendant’s plea and observed that a new subject matter category of qualified privilege whereby the publication of all political information would attract qualified privilege whatever the circumstances, would fail to provide adequate protection for reputation.

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Negligence – Law of Torts – Notes

Negligence is a failure to care for someone like that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances. It is a non intentional tort and has four elements:-

  • Duty of Care
  • Breach of Duty
  • Causation
  • Injury

Duty of Care

It is the first element of negligence that the plaintiff must prove to establish negligence. Duty of care is nothing but the duty owed by the plaintiff towards the defendant.

Leading Case on ‘duty of care’ is Donoghue v. Stevenson ([1932] AC 562). It defined duty of care as the duty to take reasonable care to avoid acts or omissions which one can reasonably foresee and would be likely to injure our neighbour. He defined neighbours as persons who are so closely and directly affected by plaintiff’s act that he/she ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when he/she is directing his mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question.

Caparo Industries plc v Dickman ([1990] UKHL 2) is another leading English tort law case on the test for a duty of care.  It prescribes a “three-fold test” to check if duty of care to arise:

  • Harm must be reasonably foreseeable
  • The parties must be in a relationship of proximity
  • It must be fair, just and reasonable to impose liability

Another case to illustrate the concept is Home Office v Dorset Yacht Co Ltd [1970] AC 1004.

In this case the defendants were jail authority supervising offenders. The offenders were serving their time by doing some work. The offenders were left unattended by the prison authorities which lead to seven of them escape. These offenders then stole a boat which collided with a Yacht owned by the plaintiff. It was held that the Home Office owed a duty of care for their omission as they were in a position of control over the 3rd party who caused the damage and it was foreseeable that harm would result from their inaction.



  • The landowner owes no ‘duty of care to a trespasser but from willful injury.  They owe a reasonable ‘duty of care’ towards invitee and licensee.

Breach of Duty is the failure to maintain the required standard of care.
In order to determine whether there has been breach of duty one must check the following:

  • the importance of the object to be attained
  • the magnitude of the risk
  • the amount of consideration for which services, etc. are offered

Ordinary Prudence Test – Plaintiff must prove that Defendant acted/omitted to do something, which a “reasonable person of ordinary prudence” would, or would not have done (Blyth v Birmingham Waterworks).

Klaus Mittelbachert v. East India Hotels Ltd. (1999 ACJ 287) – The question of liability of a five star hotel arose to a visitor, who got seriously injured when he took a dive in the swimming pool. It was observed that there is no difference between a five star hotel owner and insurer so far as the safety of the guests is concerned. It was also observed, a five star hotel charging high from its guests owes a high degree of care as regards quality and safety of its structure and services it offers and makes available.

Kerala State Electricity Board v. Suresh Kumar (AIR 1986 Ker 72) – A minor boy came in contact with overhead electric wire which had sagged to 3 feet above the ground, got electrocuted thereby and received burn injuries. The Electricity Board had a duty to keep the overhead wire 15 feet above the ground. The Board was held liable for the breach of its statutory duty.

Causation – It is the second element required to establish negligence.  Causation is demonstration of the link between the plaintiff’s injury and defendant’s act which caused the injury.  In order to establish negligence there must be proximity in time and space between the defendant’s act and injury. The injury must be foreseeable too.  Causation actually has two components:

  • Actual cause (also called “but for” cause)
  • Proximate (also known as “legal” cause)

A famous English Case Law for ‘But for Cause’ is Robinson v Post Office [(1974) 1 WLR 1176]. In this case the plaintiff fell down staircase as they were slippery and was not cleaned. The plaintiff then visited a doctor who carelessly treated him leading to plaintiff fall sick. This lead to plaintiff suing the defendant arguing but for he had not fallen he wouldn’t have got this disease. The court accepted plaintiff’s reasoning and provided damages.

In Scott v. Shepherd [96 Eng. Rep. 525 (K.B. 1773)] plaintiff threw a lighted squib in a crowded marketplace.  The squid was thrown around by until it hit defendant burning his eye. The Court held that the plaintiff when he threw the lighted squid had the knowledge that it is likely to do some mischief and therefore there was proximity between the plaintiff and the defendant.  Defendant was accordingly held liable.


In strict liability cases there is no need to show causation.

Injury is the legal damage suffered by the plaintiff due to defendant’s act or omission. The plaintiff has also to show that the damage thus caused is not too remote a consequence of the defendant’s negligence.

Damnum sine injuria – Damage without wrongful act; damage or injury inflicted without any act of injustice; loss or harm for which there is no legal remedy. It is also termed damnum absque injuria

Gloucester Grammar School Case ((1411), Y. B. 11 Hen. 4, f. 47, pi. 19)- The defendant, a schoolmaster, set up a rival school to that of the plaintiffs. Because of the competition, the plaintiffs had to reduce their fees from 40 pence to 12 pence per scholar per quarter. It was held that the plaintiffs had no remedy for the loss thus suffered by them.

Injuria sine damno– This maxim means injury without damage. Wherever there is an invasion of a legal right, the person in whom the right is vested is entitled to bring an action and may be awarded damages although he has suffered no actual damage. Thus, the act of trespassing upon another’s land is actionable even though it has done the plaintiff not the slightest harm.

Ashby v. White [(1703) 92 ER 126 ] – In this case, the plaintiff was not allowed to cast his vote despite him being legally allowed to do so. After that, the candidate whom the plaintiff wanted to cast vote for also won but the plaintiff’s right to cast was violated and hence this was accepted as a lawful loss.

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False Imprisonment – Law of Torts – Notes

False Imprisonment – The illegal confinement of one individual against his or her will by another individual in such a manner as to violate the confined individual’s right to be free from restraint of movement.

In order to establish false imprisonment plaintiff must show the following

  • Willful/Intentional detention by the defendant
  • Performed without consent of the plaintiff
  • Without the authority of law

Bird v Jones [(1845) 7 QB 742] – Plaintiff was crossing a bridge, and is stopped by the defendant. The defendant asked the plaintiff to use another way as there was a boat race happening.  The court held that since plaintiff had the option to use another way partial obstruction, unaccompanied by force or threat of force, will not constitute false imprisonment.


In certain jurisdictions of United States, a special privilege known as shopkeeper’s privilege exists, under which a shopkeeper is allowed to detain a suspected shoplifter on store property for a reasonable period of time, so long as the shopkeeper has cause to believe that the person detained in fact committed, or attempted to commit, theft of store property.

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Battery – Law of Torts – Notes

Battery – It is an intentional tort. Application of force on another without any lawful justification is called a battery. It has three elements:-

  • Reasonable apprehension of threat.
  • Intention to use force.
  • Capacity to cause injury.

Stanley v. Powell ([1891] 1 QB 86 )- Powell, who was the member of a shooting party, fired at a pheasant but the pellet from his gun glanced off a tree and accidentally wounded Stanley, another member of the party. It was held that Powell was not liable. If the act is willful or negligent, the defendant would be liable.

Letang v. Cooper ([1964] 2 All ER 292) – Plaintiff was having a sunbath in the parking lot when defendant riding on a motorbike crushed his legs. Since there was no intention on part of the defendant the plaintiff’s motion failed.

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