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Tort | Negligence

Damages: Chattels

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A claimant may be awarded damages for chattels (personal items) which are damaged or destroyed in an accident. The aim of damages is to restore the claimant to the position he was in before the defendant committed the tort, so far as it is possible to do so. Therefore, damages are determined by whether the chattels have been damaged or destroyed.

Destruction of property

The general rule is that where the claimant has been permanently deprived of personal property he is entitled to the full market value of the property at the time the tort was committed. Effectively, a claimant is awarded damages amounting to the sum required to buy a replacement at the date of destruction.

  • Facts:

    The plaintiff's dredger was negligently sunk by the defendant. The plaintiff's needed the dredger to carry out an existing contract but could not afford to buy a replacement and therefore hired a substitute.


    How should damages be calculated?


    The value of a replacement dredger was determined by the market value at the time of the loss. The court also set out the recoverable damages:
    (1) the market price of a replacement dredger,
    (2) the costs of adaptation, transport, insurance necessary to fulfil the contract,
    (3) compensation for disturbance and loss in carrying out their contract during the period of delay between the loss and substitution.

  • Uctkos v Mazzetta [1956] 1 Lloyd's Rep 209


    The plaintiff's boat was an unusual design and was destroyed by the defendant's negligence. The cost of constructing the boat required very large expenditure. However, boats of comparatively similar design, construction and performance were available at a lower price.


    How should damages be calculated?


    As the cost of a replacement chattel was in excess of the value of the property destroyed, the plaintiff was only entitled to recover the value of a reasonable substitute.

Damage to property

A claimant whose property has been damaged is entitled to damages which will make good the damage. Generally, a sum is calculated by measuring the amount that the property's value has been reduced, usually the cost of repairs.

  • The Kingsway [1918] P344

    The Court of Appeal found that the cost of repairs could be recovered, even if the repairs had not been carried out at the date of trial.

  • The York [1929] P178

    The cost of repairs could be recovered, even if the repairs are never carried out.

  • However, if the cost of repairs exceeds the market value of the property, a claimant is only entitled to the market value to enable him to replace the property.

  • Pennycuick MJ: .. Where the cost of repairs would exceed the market value of the article, and in the absence of special circumstances, the reasonable method must be to purchase a comparable article. By 'market value' in this connection is meant the price at which the article before damage, or a comparable article, could be purchased....

  • O'Grady v Westminster Scaffolding Ltd [1962] 2 Lloyd's Rep 238

    The case confirmed the decision in Darbishire v Warran [1963]. If a damaged object is unique and there is no comparable replacement for it, the plaintiff may be entitled to the cost of repair at a cost considerably exceeding its value.

Loss of use of property

A claimant should receive some compensation for the period he was unable to use the property, after it was damaged or destroyed and before it was repaired or replaced.

The Mediana [1900] AC 113


The plaintiff's ship was damaged by the defendant's negligence. The plaintiff had a spare ship for emergencies and therefore, the damaged ship was replaced with the spare one while the necessary repairs were being carried out.


Could a sum be awarded for loss of use of the damaged ship?


The plaintiff is entitled to claim for loss of use despite the fact there was another replacement ship available. A claim for loss of use is not dependent on the property being profit making. Equally, if a plaintiff needs to hire a substitute, he will be able to claim the cost of hire and if the property is profit making, the measure of damages will be the loss of profit.

Lord Halsbury: .. where by the wrongful act of one man something belonging to another is either itself so injured as not to be capable of being used or is taken away so that it cannot be used at all, that of itself is a ground for damages....

Land or buildings

The same principles as applied to chattels apply to land and buildings damaged or destroyed by the defendant's negligence. However, land and buildings are more likely to be unique and therefore, the courts will often award sums which exceed the value of the property.

Mitigation of loss

A claimant has a general duty to mitigate their loss in relation to recoverable damages. Therefore, claims for damages should be kept to a minimum.

  • Harman LJ: .. It has come to be settled that in general the measure of damage is the cost of repairing the damaged article; but there is an exception if it can be proved that the cost of repairs greatly exceeds the value in the market of the damaged article. This arises out of the plaintiff's duty to minimise his damages. Were it otherwise it would be more profitable to destroy the plaintiff's article than to damage it....

  • However, the claimant's ability to mitigate losses can depend on their ability to afford the costs of repair or replacement (to reduce the period of loss of use). If a claimant is unable to mitigate his losses due to impecuniosity then he may recover in full.

  • Facts:

    The claimant's car was damaged by the defendant's negligent driving. The claimant's car required extensive work and he needed a temporary replacement. The claimant was only able to obtain a hire car on an expensive credit arrangement.


    Could the claimant recover in full?


    The defendant was liable for the cost of credit because the claimant had to take out the expensive agreement as a result of the damage caused by the defendant's negligence. Essentially, the court applied the principle that a defendant must take his victim as he finds him.

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