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H West & Son Ltd v Shepherd [1963] UKHL 3

QUANTIFICATION OF DAMAGES

Facts

The claimant was knocked down by a lorry which was owned by the first defendants and negligently driven by an employee of the second defendant. She suffered severe head injuries resulting in cerebral atrophy and paralysis of all four limbs. She lost the ability to speak and could communicate only through tiny movements of her eyes, and required full time care by nursing staff. Her life expectancy was estimated to be reduced to around five years, during which time there was no prospect of improvement in her condition. She brought an action for damages in the tort of negligence against the defendant.

At first instance, she was awarded £17,500. This was based in part on the precedent established in Wise v Kaye [1962] 1 QB 638, in which damages of £15,000 were awarded on comparable facts (the increase of £2,500 was to reflect the fact that in this case the claimant was thought to be aware of her condition at least to some extent). The defendant appealed, contending that this award was too high.

Issue

The issue was whether the award of damages was so unreasonably high that it could be revised by the Appeal courts. The basis on which this award had been arrived at was therefore in issue.

Held

The House of Lords, affirming the decision of the Court of Appeal, held that although the sum awarded was high it was within the scope of the trial judge’s properly exercised discretion, and should therefore stand (the Lords Reid and Devlin dissented on this point). The House also gave general guidance for determining damages in such cases, specifically that the claimant’s loss of happiness is neither a correct or practicable approach to determining damages.


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