Herd v Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Co Ltd. [1915] AC 67

False imprisonment – Coal mining – Breach of Contract


Herd (H) was a miner in a coal mine. H attended work at 9.30 am, and in the ordinary course of work he would be entitled to be raised to the surface from the mine at the end of his shift at 4pm. When H arrived at work in the mine, he wrongfully refused to being work, and requested to be raised to the surface in the lift at 11am. His employers, Weardale Steel, Coal and Coke Company, the owners of the colliery (D), refused to allow H to be lifted to the surface until 1.30 pm. H was thus detained in the mine until that time. H sued D for damages for false imprisonment.


H claimed that his prevention from using the lift until 1.30pm, which caused him to be imprisoned in the mine as it was the only means of exit, constituted false imprisonment.


There was no false imprisonment due to the operation in the present case of the common law doctrine of volenti non fit injuria, which means that a person cannot bring an action against another person for tort or delict if they had willingly placed themselves in a position where harm might result, knowing that some degree of harm might result. In this case, the imprisonment constituted the ‘harm.’ Following the case of Robinson v Balmain New Ferry Co. Ltd [1910] AC 295, H was only entitled to the use of the exit on the terms on which he had entered. H had breached his employment contract by refusing to do the work he was ordered to do. This breach of contract justified his detention in the mine until the lift could be used at 1.10 that day.