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Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57

Damages – Psychiatric harm – Remoteness

Facts

Downton (D) made a joke to Mrs Wilkinson (W) that her husband, Thomas Wilkinson (T) had had an accident in which both his legs were broken and that W should go to The Elms pub where T was lying to bring him home. These statements were false but D intended them to be believed as true by W, who suffered a shock to her nervous system as a result. W had no predisposition to nervous shock and the shock which caused her weeks of suffering and incapacity was not a result of previous ill-health. W raised an action against D for compensation for her illness and suffering due to the false representation made by D.

Issue

The issue in question was whether compensation could be made for a person’s illness and suffering following the false representation made by the defendant, D.

Held

D had wilfully made a false representation to W intending to cause some physical harm to W, by infringing her right to personal safety, with no justification for doing so. Although D did not intend the harm which was caused, this ‘wilful injuria’ is malicious in law. The injury caused to W was not too remote and could have been foreseen, and therefore taken to have been intended, by D. As Wright J., stated at paragraph 59:

“It is difficult to imagine that such a statement, made suddenly and with apparent seriousness, could fail to produce grave effects under the circumstances upon any but an exceptionally indifferent person, and therefore an intention to produce such an effect must be imputed, and it is no answer in law to say that more harm was done than was anticipated, for that is commonly the case with all wrongs.”


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