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Admiralty principle discussed in common law proceedings – consequential damages not allowed.

The Facts

The insured vessel collided with another on the Hooghly River, Calcutta (Kolkata).

The vessel incurred liability for additional wages while being repaired (first head of damage);  and liability for a contribution to the owners of the other vessel under an Admiralty Rule that, in the case of accidental collision, the damages suffered by both vessels are added and then divided with each vessel being liable for half the aggregate. The vessel itself suffered less damage than the other, and was therefore liable to remit the difference to the other vessel (second head of damage).


In a trial before Denman CJ at the London sittings, he directed the jury to ignore both heads of damage.

In the ancient appellate process (moving for a rule to show cause for a new trial) argued before a panel headed also by Lord Denman CJ, the rule was refused.

The first head of damage was rejected on the authority of Lord Mansfield in Fletcher v Poole.

The second head of damage was rejected on the basis of the maxim:  (in iure non remota causa sed proxima spectatur).

Sir Francis Bacon’s gloss on the above maxim was set out as follows:  “It were infinite for the law to judge the causes of causes and their impulsions one of another;  therefore it contents itself with the immediate cause, and judgeth of acts by that without looking to any farther degree”.


 In rejecting the first head of damage, Lord Denman said as follows:  (referring to Lord Mansfield): “But when we consider the high authority of that great master of insurance law … and above all, when we find no trace for even a claim being set up inconsistent with it for a period of near 70 years, though the facts must have afforded the opportunity many thousands of times, we think this point must be regarded as fully established, and that we should not be justified in casting any doubt upon it”.


Regard for the eminence of the authority and the age of the precedent is a constant refrain in English jurisprudence.


In rejecting the second head of damage, the judge said:  (referring to the rule of Admiralty) “It grows out of an arbitrary provision in the law of nations from views of general expediency, not as dictated by natural justice, nor (possibly) quite consistent with it”.


It is interesting to note that the Laws of Oleron and Wisby, Pother in his Traite du contrat de assurance, and the French textbook, Le Droit Le Anseatique (Hanseatic law) edited by M Boulay-Paty were received in argument.

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