Letang v Cooper [1965] 1 QB 232

Intention to cause harm and trespass to the person


In the summer of 1957, the claimant was sunbathing outside on a piece of land which ordinarily served as a car park. While she was sunbathing, the Defendant reversed over her legs with his car, causing her injury. The defendant did not do it intentionally, however the claimant had the option of claiming in negligence. She did not, immediately, choose to do so. By 1961 she had decided to start a claim, but as a claim of negligence had limitation period of three years (as per the Limitation Act 1939 2 & 3 Geo.6 c.21 as amended by section 2 of the Law Reform (Limitation of Actions, etc.) Act, 1954) she made a claim under trespass to the person.


The issue in this case was whether it was possible to make a claim under trespass to the person if the action was negligent rather than intentional as until then the tort of trespass to the person had been applied to both types of situation.


Adopting the approach from Kruber v Grzesiak ([1963] VR 621) the court held that where the damage was caused by an action which was not intentional, then the proper action is one in negligence and not in trespass to the person. For the claimant, this meant that she could not start the action she had (based on trespass) and that her only available action was time barred. In terms of the law, the judgement of the court meant that a distinction was established between the torts of negligence and the trespass to the person based on intent. In effect, this meant that the law on trespass to the person has been narrowed.