Remedies and Limitations


Remedies and limitations


After reading this chapter you should be able to:

Understand the way in which different remedies are awarded

Understand the significance of limitation periods

Critically analyse the area

Apply the law to factual situations and reach conclusions

20.1 Damages

20.1.1 Nature and purpose of damages

In many cases where physical damage to property has occurred, the purpose of damages is clear – to compensate the claimant for the loss suffered, which usually means the cost of repairs and other quantifiable financial loss caused by the tort. It is less clear where personal injury is involved, as the court may also seek to compensate for future financial loss which can only be estimated as well as the pain and suffering which has been caused.

In the case of torts actionable per se no actual damage needs to be proved. So what then is the purpose of an award in such cases? Here the court seeks to mark its disapproval of the interference with the claimant’s legal interest whether in relation to bodily integrity (trespass to the person), goods (trespass to goods), land (trespass to land) or reputation (libel and those situations where slander is actionable per se). The award is compensation for violation of such interest.

special damages
Not to be confused with special damage – generally refers to damages for financial losses and expenses incurred up to the date of trial which have to be pleaded separately from the claim itself

One particular feature of the system raises a very real difficulty. As a general rule, all awards of damages are final. The case cannot be re-opened and the award reassessed at a later date. How can one predict the future? This is of real concern in personal injury cases. As we shall see, this rule has been somewhat relaxed in such cases but a crystal ball is still needed.

20.1.2 Types of damages – general and special

Damages are either general or special damages. Special damages must be specifically pleaded and consist of quantifiable financial losses including loss of wages, value of clothing or other property which has been lost or destroyed, cost of repairing damaged property and other out of pocket expenses. General damages are by their nature unable to be quantified precisely and cover such things as pain and suffering and loss of amenity. In certain circumstances general damages may be awarded in different forms to achieve slightly different purposes:

loss of amenity
Damages are awarded where the claimant is unable to do things that he could before the wrong occurred





Contemptuous damages

The award of contemptuous damages, often the value of the smallest coin in the realm, marks the fact that

the claimant has established that a right has been infringed;

in the court’s view the action should never have been brought.

The latter may be because of the actual circumstances of the case, for example where a ‘one off ’ trespass to land has occurred but was no more than a limited incursion causing no actual damage. The court may also use contemptuous damages to mark its belief that morally at least, although not legally, the claimant ‘got what they deserved’. Such awards are not uncommon in libel actions.

One consequence of contemptuous damages is that the claimant may find that the award of costs is affected. Although an order is usually made in favour of the successful party, the judge has a discretion to order that both sides bear their own costs or even to order the claimant to pay the costs of both sides.

Nominal damages

nominal damages
A small sum of damages awarded where there has technically been a wrong but no actual damage has been caused

Where nominal damages are awarded the claimant’s right has been infringed but little damage has occurred. The judge will be satisfied that the claimant has acted reasonably in bringing the case. Such awards are not unusual in cases where the tort is actionable per se such as trespass or where the remedy of choice is an injunction or a declaration. In the recent case of Ms B v An NHS Trust [2002] EWHC 429 (Fam) the declaration sought by the claimant was granted and a nominal sum awarded for damages for the trespass to her person. In that case the claimant also received full costs but it should be remembered that the judge may exercise discretion whether or not to award costs and may decline to do so.

Aggravated damages

Aggravated damages are awarded to compensate the claimant for injury to feelings and distress which have been increased by the defendant’s bad motive or wilful behaviour.

The Court of Appeal gave an explanation of the circumstances in which aggravated damages should be awarded in the case of Thompson v Metropolitan Police Commissioner [1997] 2 All ER 762. Explaining that aggravated damages are awarded in addition to the basic figure which would usually be the sum for general damages, Lord Woolf MR said:



‘Such damages can be awarded where there are aggravating features about the case which would result in the [claimant] not receiving sufficient compensation for the injury suffered … Aggravating features can include humiliating circumstances … or any conduct of those responsible … which shows that they had behaved in a high-handed, insulting, malicious or oppressive manner.’

Aggravated damages have been awarded for claims relating to torts such as battery, trespass to land, deceit and racial or sexual discrimination but there is authority to say that this should not happen in cases involving claims of negligence (Kralj v McGrath [1986] 1 All ER 54 – a case involving medical negligence).

As the award is basically for hurt feelings, it would be inappropriate for a company to receive such an award – a company has no feelings to be hurt!

Exemplary damages

The purpose of exemplary damages is twofold:

(i) to punish the defendant; and

(ii) to deter others from similar behaviour.

At first sight, the difference between exemplary and aggravated damages is not clear. In both cases, the disapproval of the defendant’s action is seen to merit an additional award based largely on the view taken of the defendant’s behaviour. The distinction is drawn between behaviour which adds to the claimant’s hurt feelings (aggravated damages) and behaviour which deserves punishment even if the additional hurt to the claimant is minimal.

The availability of exemplary damages

The modern approach dates from a case in 1964.



Rookes v Barnard [1964] AC 1129

The case involved an industrial dispute at Heathrow Airport. The claimant was an employee who had left the union which operated an informal closed shop agreement with the employers, British Overseas Airways Corporation. The defendant was an unpaid union official and as a result of union action, the employers were told that unless the claimant was dismissed there would be a strike. The claimant was dismissed and brought a civil action against the defendant and others for conspiracy. The claimant succeeded in his action. The important point for discussion here was whether he could be awarded exemplary damages.

Lord Devlin explained the distinction between compensatory damages and exemplary damages. The former, including aggravated damages, are intended to compensate the claimant for loss suffered. The latter are awarded to mark disapproval of the defendant’s conduct and to deter others from similar behaviour. Lord Devlin concluded that there are two categories of cases where an award of exemplary damages could be appropriate:



(i) ‘oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional action by the servants of the government’;

(ii) ‘those [cases] where the defendant’s conduct has been calculated by him to make a profit for himself which may well exceed the compensation payable to the [claimant]’.

The judge noted that a third category of case existed where ‘exemplary damages are expressly authorised by statute’.

The availability of exemplary damages has continued to be controversial. Lord Devlin in Rookes v Barnard took the view that there were:



‘certain categories of cases in which an award of exemplary damages can serve a useful purpose in vindicating the strength of the law … and thus admitting into the civil law a principle which ought logically to belong to the criminal’.

When it is remembered that the general purpose of damages in civil law is to provide compensation rather than to punish a defendant, the basis for this view is clear. However, what about those cases where the criminal law provides no remedy but the conduct of the defendant is in the eyes of many people deserving of punishment? It is in this area that the issue of exemplary damages becomes of particular importance and, at the same time, particularly controversial. The courts have struggled with the problem and have shown reluctance to allow any extension of the categories for which exemplary damages can be awarded.

In Broome v Cassell & Co Ltd [1972] AC 1027 it was held that the categories of torts for which exemplary damages could be awarded was limited to those cases where such an award had been possible prior to 1964 (the ‘cause of action approach’). This view, although the subject of academic argument and criticism, has been reconsidered by the House of Lords in Kuddus v Chief Constable of Leicestershire [2002] UKHL 29.



Kuddus v Chief Constable of Leicestershire [2002] UKHL 29

The claimant had come back to his flat to find that many items were missing. The police officer attending the scene said that the matter would be investigated but two months later forged the claimant’s signature on a statement withdrawing the complaint of theft. The claimant brought an action for misfeasance in a public office against the defendant as the employer of the police officer. The issue for the courts was whether the actions of the police officer could be the basis of an award of exemplary damages.

In considering its judgment, the members of the House of Lords bore in mind the report of the Law Commission which in 1997 recommended that the availability of exemplary damages should extend to all torts regardless of whether such categories had been recognised prior to 1964 (‘Report on aggravated, exemplary and restitutional damages’, Law Com. No. 247, 1997). Discussing this issue, and supporting the view of the Law Commission, Lord Mackay said:



‘The issue is determined by whether the factual situation is covered by either of Lord Devlin’s formulations.’

Rejecting the ‘cause of action’ approach taken in Broome v Cassell, Lord Nicholls said that it represented:



‘an arbitrary and irrational restriction on the availability of exemplary damages’.

Lord Nicholls went on to say:



‘On occasion conscious wrongdoing by a defendant is so outrageous, his disregard of the [claimant’s] rights so contumelious, that something more is needed to show that the law will not tolerate such behaviour. Without an award of exemplary damages, justice will not have been done.’

The present position

Accepting as one must, that the position is now that explained by the House of Lords in Kuddus v Chief Constable of Leicestershire, it is informative to consider examples of those cases where the courts have considered the issue of exemplary damages in those circumstances suggested by Lord Devlin in Rookes v Barnard.

In the case of oppressive, arbitrary or unconscionable action by servants of the government it is clear that there can be a punitive remedy for blatant abuse of power by civil servants or other agents of the government. An example of this is found in the following case.



Huckle v Money [1763] 2 Wils 205

The defendant was detained pursuant to a search warrant for no more than six hours, during which time he was given ‘beefsteaks and beer’. Notwithstanding this good treatment, the court held that the fact that the warrant was issued to obtain evidence:


‘is worse than the Spanish inquisition … it is a more daring public attack upon the liberty of the subject’.

The purpose of the category seems to be to ensure that executive powers are not exercised in an abusive way. Police officers are not strictly servants of the government but their actions are covered by these rules. Actions by publicly owned corporate bodies are only covered if the body is exercising an executive function. In AB v South West Water Services Ltd [1993] 1 All ER 609 it was held that a publicly owned monopoly supplier of water did not exercise executive functions and was not covered.

Lord Devlin’s second category is intended to catch behaviour by the defendant which shows:

(i) cynical self-interest in calculating that profit will exceed any compensation to which the claimant may be entitled; and

(ii) knowledge that the action is against the law or a blatant disregard of whether the action is or is not lawful.

Mere carelessness by the defendant will not suffice. No precise definition of what will suffice can be given but it seems that the courts are looking for some evidence of deliberate, calculated action. It is clear that there is no need to show that the defendant made any precise calculation.

In John v MGN Ltd [1997] QB 586, a case in which the singer Elton John was the subject of a libel, it was suggested:

(i) a general calculation that publication would aid sales of the newspaper; and

(ii) any negotiated settlement or even any award of damages would be less than the profit from the increased sales was enough.

20.1.3 Damages for personal injury

pecuniary loss
Damages that can be calculated in financial terms, e.g. loss of earnings

Assessing unliquidated damages for personal injury is fraught with difficulty. How can such injury be compensated for by money? The award is divided into three parts:

1 pre-trial pecuniary loss;

2 loss of future earnings; and

3 non-pecuniary loss.

non-pecuniary loss
Compensation for pain, suffering and loss of amenities where judges have developed rates of compensation

We will look at the first two categories together and then turn to the third.

Pecuniary loss

It is possible for losses falling into this category to be assessed in money terms. The claimant will be able to provide evidence of actual expenditure relating to the injury and future earnings can be quantified.


Many items of expenditure can simply be proved by the production of receipts or similar evidence. This can include the cost of private medical treatment actually incurred as there is no requirement to use the National Health Service (Law Reform (Personal Injuries) Act 1948, s2(4)). Where it is used, the NHS has the right to recover costs relating to treatment resulting from a road traffic accident from the third party’s insurers (Road Traffic (NHS Charges) Act 1999) but this does not apply to the cost of future treatment.

The claimant may claim the cost of future private medical care but once the award has been made, the court has no supervisory powers and it is for the claimant to decide whether or not to use NHS facilities after all. At the time of the award, the court may take into account the cost of care which the claimant will be unable to receive privately and, indeed, if the court is satisfied that private treatment will not in fact be used for whatever reason, no award can be made to cover private costs.

Apart from the choice to use private medical care, there is a requirement that the expenditure is reasonably incurred. By way of example, a claimant is free to choose between permanent care in an institution or at home. The difference in cost is not decisive but the basis of the choice must be reasonable. It will be more difficult for the claimant to show that the choice of home-care is reasonable where the alternative cost of institutional care is much less.

Where a relative or other person provides necessary care rather than a person employed for that purpose, the carer has no direct claim. Since Donnelly v Joyce [1974] QB 454 the cost of such services, whether actually paid for or not, has been recoverable by the claimant. This would certainly cover net loss of earnings by a family member who has given up work to care for the claimant but will not otherwise amount to the commercial rate for the services.

Loss of future earnings

The court has to calculate the sum which will, when invested, produce a sum representing the claimant’s lost earnings. This is done in two stages:

1. assessment of net annual loss; and

2. multiplying this figure by the number of years such loss is likely to continue.

The net annual loss is usually gross wages less tax, social security contributions, pension contributions and any other deductions which would have been made from gross income. At first sight this looks simple but how many people can be certain of what the future holds? Opportunity may knock, enabling the claimant to increase earnings, or unemployment may strike, causing a drastic reduction. A claimant may argue that the injury has resulted in the loss of a chance of fame and/or fortune. In such cases, the court will make as realistic assessment as possible of the chances of the claimant actually achieving the goal. This happened in the following case example.



Doyle v Wallace [1998] PIQR Q146

The claimant was unable to work following a car accident. She had been planning to qualify as a drama teacher but, if she was not successful, to work as a clerk. As it was too early to say on the basis of her studies to that date whether or not she would have qualified, the court assessed her chances of qualifying at 50 per cent and her net future income at halfway between what she would have earned as a clerk and the higher pay she could have expected as a teacher.

Once the net annual loss has been calculated it would seem a simple calculation to multiply this figure by the relevant number of years throughout which it might have been earned. The courts will, however, take account of what have been described as ‘the normal vicissitudes of life’, for example, that the claimant might not have worked until retirement age.

Even after these figures have been assessed, it is not simple to calculate the lump sum payable. The court needs to decide what capital sum must be invested to produce an annual income of the right amount. This takes into account the fact that interest will accrue on the investment and the fact that the claimant will be expected to use part of the capital to supplement the income. A major problem is caused by inflation, which can fluctuate widely over a long period of time with the result that the return on the invested income can be seriously affected. The courts use actuarial tables (the Ogden Tables) prepared by insurance experts as well as guidance issued by the Lord Chancellor (presumably now by the Department of Constitutional Affairs) as to the likely rate of return on investments. By the Damages (Personal Injury) Order 2001 (SI 2001 No. 2301) the rate is presently set at 2.5 per cent. The courts do not have to follow the guidance, the Damages Act 1996 s1 granting discretion to depart from it where appropriate.


It is a basic principle that a person should not be compensated from more than one source for the same injury. There are exceptions for certain social security benefits and for some other sources of compensation.

Social security benefits. For many years the sum awarded to the claimant was reduced by the amount of social security benefits payable. In 1989 this was changed to enable relevant benefits to be recouped from the defendants or their insurers but the result was that on occasions the claimant would be left without any compensation and it continued to allow the insurers to avoid payment of compensation in full. The position is now governed by the Social Security (Recovery of Benefits) Act 1997 which provides that damages may only be reduced if certain benefits equivalent to particular heads of damage have been paid. Schedule 2 specifies the relevant benefits which will be set against loss of earnings, the cost of care and the loss of mobility. By way of an example, attendance allowance is taken into account against the heading ‘loss of care’ and income support is set against ‘loss of income.’

The result of this complex legislation is that the claimant will receive full compensation although some of it may come from social security benefits which are then paid back to the State by the defendants or their insurers.

Other sources of compensation. Sums paid by way of sickness benefit by an employer are taken into account but not a disability pension paid by an employer, insurance payouts from personal accident cover taken out by the claimant or payments made on a charitable basis. This obviously means that the claimant does in fact ‘profit’ in the sense that income is increased.

The approach has been criticised by the Law Commission (‘Damages for personal injury: collateral benefits’, Consultation Paper 147, 1997) but continues to be used by the courts. The reasoning seems to be that to do otherwise would:

(i) discourage employers from making proper arrangements for their employees;

(ii) discourage people from obtaining sensible insurance cover;

(iii) be an unreasonable rebuff to those seeking to act benevolently in response to another’s misfortune;