The Winkfield

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Citation: The Winkfield (1900-3) All ER Rep 346.

This information can be found in the Textbook: Edgeworth et all, Sackville and Neave's Property Law Cases and Materials, 8th edition, Lexis Nexis, 2008, pp. 114-7 [2.17]


Background facts

  • The Plaintiff [the Mexican] was a ship carrying mail and the Defendant [the Winkfield], collided, causing the Plaintiff to sink.
  • The owners of the Defendant admitted liability. They repaid an amount calculated as per the statutory limit of their liability.
  • The Postmaster-General (PMG) of the area from which the mail was delivered made two claims - one for the registered mail, and one for the unregistered mail which were lost in the accident. (the PMG is a part of the Plaintiff)
  • This case concerns whether the PMG can claim for the unregistered mail.
  • The delivery of the mail by the PMG and the Mexican is a bailment:
    • The people who sent the mail are the bailors. They are the true owners of the mail.
    • The PMG (and the Plaintiff) are the bailees, since the chattel was placed with them to be delivered.

Legal issues

  • Personal property - Conversion
    • Can a bailee (or any person who is not the true owner of chattel) still recover money when that chattel is interfered with whilst in the bailee's possession.
    • Can the bailee recover even if he is not liable to the bailor (actual owner of the goods)?


Collins MR:

  • The wrongdoer (the Defendant) must treat the bailee (the PMG, the Plaintiff) as the owner of the goods for all purposes irrespective of the rights and obligation as between him and the bailor.
    • Possession is absolute and complete title against a wrongdoer.
    • The Defendant admitted liability and therefor is a wrongdoer. The possession of the Plaintiff is therefore an absolute title against the Defendant.
  • The chattel that has been converted or damaged is deemed to be the chattel of the possessor and of no other, and therefore its loss or deterioration is his loss, and to him, if he demands it, it must be recouped.
  • In other words, the defendant has to recompense the plaintiff for the unregistered mail regardless of the fact that the Plaintiff was not the owner, and was just delivering it for others.
  • Again, since possession is absolute and complete title against a wrongdoer, it doesn't matter that the Plaintiff is not liable to the people sending the letters. He can still recover from the Defendant.
    • It should be noted that the Defendant will also be vulnerable to an action brought by the bailors (people sending the letters).
    • That means that they might have double liability, which is abnormal in tort law.
  • The Plaintiff wins.


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