LETANG v. COOPER

(1965) 1 QB 232

IRAC ANALYSIS


FACTS

A. BACKGROUND

● The Plaintiff, Ms. Letang was injured as Mr. Cooper negligently reversed his Jaguar motor car over her legs while she was sunbathing outside in an area that was used mostly for parking purposes.

● Furthermore, there was no intention to cause harm but the defendant was negligent enough in his act.


B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

● A case was filed by Ms. Letang against Mr. Cooper’s negligence but she did not file it immediately in 1957.

● The case was filed after four years in 1961 and not only against negligence alone but also, she resorted to making a claim under trespass to the person as the claim for negligence had a limitation period of three years.


C. PRESENT CASE

Mr. Cooper was made to a amount of 575 pounds in damages for the claim of trespass to a person and determining the other factors but on the other hand the claim against the negligence was barred by the court due to the limitation period as the case was filed after four years but the limitation period for negligence was three years.


ISSUE

The main issue pertains to the trespass to a person because of the negligent act of the defendant. However, the researchers have identified the following issues that determine the nuances of the case. The issues are as follows:

[A] Whether it was possible to make a claim against trespass to a person if the act was not intentional but negligent enough.

[B] Whether the claim for negligence is statute barred because of the limitation act that applies on negligence.


RULE

The following rules were held relevant for the court to determine its decision.

[1] Now the claim of trespass to a person is only brought under intentional torts that are assault, battery, false imprisonment. If the claim of the same is under negligence, then the person has to prove all the elements of torts. There is no overlap between negligence and trespass to a person. Intention is the significant element in differentiating between negligence and trespass to a person.

[2] Limitation Act 1939 2 & 3 Geo.6 c. 21[1] as amended by section 2 of the Law Reform (Limitation of Actions Act, 1954)[2] The case was filed after four years of the tort committed. Claim under negligence has a limitation period of three years.


ANALYSIS AND APPLICATION

In order to do the analysis, the researcher has divided it into different heads. They are as follows:

A. THE DECISION OF THE COURT

The House of Appeal consisted of Lord denning MR, Diplock LJ and Dankwerts LJ. The decision was such that the claim for negligence is statute barred under the Limitations Act. Furthermore, trespass to a person includes intention that was not present. So, the court held that Ms. Letang could not recover the damages as her claim was late under negligence.

Therefore, the appeal was allowed and an amount of 575 pounds was made out to the appellant, Mr. Cooper based on certain facts that were determined by the court. But first the decision was given by Elwes j on the basis of the limitation period of negligence and not the trespass to the person. Such a case was astounding as the same case was under a different name. This approach was rejected by the court of appeal and Lord denning had to go to the old forms of law to determine the results[3]. The term that came out was “breach of duty” that is possible a broader term than tres[4]pass to a person and covers the essential elements.

According to the author trespass to a person has a narrow scope and moreover tort of negligence is a differentiated tort that has been committed by Mr. Cooper. So the limitation period had been taken into the consideration. Furthermore, the tort committed had been compared and identified in the heads below. Nevertheless, the result is desirable as any other case that could require legislative intervention. The term “breach of duty” was a wide enough term that could be used to determine the results. Moreover, a committee was mentioned that gives an idea about the cases which are presented under the wrong heads then the limitation period is reduced. This was not mentioned clearly in the case analysis although it could be held significant.


B. LIMITATION PERIOD ABSURDNESS

The court of appeal referred the case of Kruber v Grzesiak[5] while deciding the effect of the time barred claim and the distinction was made between tort of negligence and trespass to a person based on intent. Under the Limitations Act 1939, the period of limitation was six years in all the torts but in 1954 it was made to three years for damages for personal injuries, provided that the actions come within these words’ pf section 2, subsection (1), of the law reform Act, 1954. The words that are mentioned in this section does not mention trespass to a person and it can be said that time barred is not the new period of three years. It would also mean, if a man in an accident injures one person and kills the other , the widow will have three years to sue and the injured man has six years.

Thus, it also shows that the claim under trespass is easier than the claim under negligence due to the limitation period that was changed by the new law as noticed in this case.

According to the author the law on trespass to a person has been narrowed. In old law if the driver of a horse and gig ran down a person negligently on the road they would be sued under trespass to a person.[6] Whereas, if the driver would have been a servant, he could not sue the master[7]. Today this comes under tort of negligence.


C. COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

This case does not fulfill the elements of trespass to person especially battery, assault as these involve a very important element that is intention and they are termed as intentional torts. Instead of dividing the trespass into the direct damage and consequential damage the basic division should be based on intentionally or unintentionally[8]. If we look at the facts of this case, it is not mentioned that if Mr. Cooper had some past enmity between them that could possibly lead to battery or assault. Force is applied and there is direct contact and hurt that took place, however it was not intentional but negligent. Nowadays, if a man throws a piece of log on the road and another man tumbles over it, it is not trespass to a person but simply negligence. Breach of duty is something that a reasonable man would not do and it could cover some aspects of both negligence and trespass to the person. But here the defendant was careless enough to injure the plaintiff by his acts and moreover, injury that is dangerous with a motor car involved.


CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTIONS

In lieu of the above analysis, the authors agree to the decision that could invite a legislative intervention on deciding this case. The Limitation Period that was taken into consideration in determining the claim against the negligence was valid but had certain absurdity under old and the new law. The element of intention is a crucial element to decide whether it was trespass to a person or the tort of negligence. Trespass to a person has a narrowed scope as it is based on essential torts like assault, battery and false imprisonment. Negligence is neither included nor overlaps the trespass to a person as we saw in the above case.

The wider ambit of “breach of duty” was thrown light upon that includes both negligence and trespass to a person.

The author suggests that, firstly, the differentiation between the old and the new law and what is applicable should be clear. Secondly, the absurdity of the limitation period when it comes to an injured person and the person who is killed in an accident is not suitable to an extent. Third, a commission was setup that elucidates the time period if the claim is made under the wrong head, then the time period reduces, it would have been made clearer and more suitable in the light of this case along with the decision that its recommendations should be taken into the consideration or not


-- [1] Limitations Act, 1954, §UK Public General Acts [2]Limitations Act , 1939 2 & 3 Geo.6 c.21 § UK Public General Acts [3] Gerald Dworkin, Trespass and Negligence. A Further Attempt To Bury The Forms Of Actions, vol 28, No. 1, pp 92(Jan, 1965) [4] Billings v Reed [1945] K.B 11 [5] Kruber v Grzesiak, [1963] VR 621 [6] William v Holland, [1833] 10 Bingham 112 [7] Sharrod v London and North Western Railways , [1849] 4 Exchequer , 580 [8] FA Trindade, Some Curiosities Of Negligent Trespass To The Person: A comparative Study, Vol.20, No. 4 pp 706 (Oct., 1971)



This article is written by Teesha Arora of Symbiosis Law School Pune.


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