Wagon Mound No 1

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Citation: Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock & Engineering Co Ltd (The "Wagon Mound" (No 1)) [1961] AC 388

This information can be found in the Textbook: Sappideen, Vines, Grant & Watson, Torts: Commentary and Materials (Lawbook Co, 10th ed, 2009), pp. 519-21 [13.175] or here

Contents

Background facts

  • The Defendants [Overseas Tankship] negligently leaked oil into the water when it was parked by the wharf of the Plaintiff [Morts Dock].
  • The Plaintiff inquired with Caltex whether this oil is highly flammable still in the water. He was informed that it would be very hard for the oil to catch alight.
  • Based on this, he let his employee's to do some work, which resulted in the oil catching fire and damage to his wharf and a ship stationed there.
  • The Plaintiff sought to recover damages for the negligence of the Defendants in spilling the oil.

Argument

  • The fire and the damage to the wharf was a direct consequence of the Defendant's negligence.

Legal issues

Judgment

  • The test of direct consequence should not be the test for remoteness anymore "For it does not seem consonant with current ideas of justice or morality that for an act of negligence, however slight or venial, which results in some trivial foreseeable damage the actor should be liable for all consequences however unforeseeable and however grave, so long as they can be said to be 'direct.'"[1]
  • "It is a principle of civil liability...that a man must be considered to be responsible for the probable consequences of his act. To demand more of him is too harsh a rule."[2]
  • "It is not the act but the consequences on which tortious liability is founded."
  • Quoting Donoghue v Stevenson, "The liability for negligence...is no doubt based upon a general public sentiment of moral wrongdoing for which the offender must pay."
  • "It is a departure from this sovereign principle if liability is made to depend solely on the damage being the 'direct' or 'natural' consequence of the precedent act...But if it would be wrong that a man should be held liable for damage unpredictable by a reasonable man because it was "direct" or "natural," equally it would be wrong that he should escape liability, however "indirect" the damage, if he foresaw or could reasonably foresee the intervening events which led to its being done; cf. Woods v. Duncan.[1946] A.C. at p 442. Thus foreseeability becomes the effective test."
  • Foreseeability becomes the test for remoteness, and the Defendant could not have reasonably foreseen that the oil would catch alight.
  • Thus, the Defendant is not liable for the damages, because they are too remote.

References

  1. [1961] AC 388, 422
  2. [1961] AC 388, 422
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