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Tort Law: A Legal Concept of Fundamental Importance, Part III.

Contents discussed in this blog:

  1. Introduction
  2. Legal Damage As A Constituent of Tort Law
  3. Injuria Sine Damnum
  4. Damnum Sine Injuria
  5. Conclusion

INTRODUCTION

When coming across a case of tort, the number one question that comes up in anyone’s mind is that if there has been any legal damage or not. So, what exactly is legal damage and why is it so necessary?

In this article, I will be answering these very questions and explain (in detail) legal damage as a constituent of tort law. We’ve already learned about the fundamentals of tort law in our previous articles (Article 1 and Article 2) so, I am assuming that you have got a basic understanding of the concept.

LEGAL DAMAGE AS A CONSTITUENT OF TORT LAW

After going through the previous articles, you must have noticed that in order for an act or omission to amount to a tort, it is imperative for there to be the existence of negligence of legal duty by the alleged culprit. Implying that in order for a plaintiff to succeed in their suit against the defendant in an action of tort, the plaintiff must first have to prove that there has been legal damage caused to them.

In other words, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove that the wrongful act – an act or omission – committed by the defendant has led to a breach of legal duty or violation of a legal right vested in the plaintiff.

One of the most essential things in torts is to remember that unless there has been a violation of legal right(s), there can be no action under the law of torts.

My right has been infringed, My Lord.

Now, the first question one must ask is what exactly is legal damage? In common parlance, legal damage can be explained as the monetary compensation to one for the loss or injury caused to them by another’s wrongful act.

There are two maxims that are related to the concept of legal damage and they are Injuria Sine Damnum and Damnum Sine Injuria.

Here’s a quick meaning of the words before proceeding further:

  1. Injuria – Legal Injury
  2. Sine – Without
  3. Damnum – Damages

INJURIA SINE DAMNUM

The maxim Injuria Sine Damnum in layman’s terms can be explained as and when there is a violation of a legal right without causing any harm, loss, or damage to the plaintiff.

You see, there are two kinds of torts:

  1. Firstly, those torts are actionable per se, i.e., actionable without the proof of any damage or loss. For instance, trespass to land is actionable even though there might not be any actual damage or loss caused to the plaintiff as a result of such trespass.
  2. Secondly, the torts that are actionable only on the proof of some damage caused by such an act.

The maxim Injuria Sine Damnum falls under the first category and it implies that it is an infringement of a legal right that, even if the plaintiff suffers no physical damage, provides an actionable cause of action. Further, for successful action, the only thing which has to be proved is that the plaintiff’s legal right has been violated, i.e., there is injuria.

Landmark Case Related to Injuria Sine Damnum

Ashby v. White [1703]

Facts of the Case:

Mr. Ashby was denied the right to vote in an election due to a mistake made by the constable, Mr. White, on the pretense that he was not a permanent resident. The matter drew a lot of public attention and debate in Parliament at the time. It was afterward dubbed the Aylesbury election case. Despite the Conservative party’s reliance on the House of Commons’ powers, it drew the attention of Peter King, 1st Baron King, who spoke and maintained the right of electors to have recourse to common law for the revocation of their ballots. At the House of Lords, Sir Thomas Powys defended William White. The argument was that only the House of Commons, not the courts, had the authority to decide election matters. In short, the plaintiff was a qualified voter at a parliamentary election, but the defendant, a returning officer, refused to take the plaintiff’s vote.

Issue:

In this case, the question is whether one party can sue for damages if one of its civil rights is violated by another party’s actions.

Held:

The returning officer, the defendant, wrongfully refused to register a duly tendered candidate for the vote of the appellant, a constitutionally eligible elector, in a general election, and the candidate for whom the vote was held was chosen, with no injury caused by the denial of the vote. If a person’s right to vote is taken away by a statute that is unconstitutional because it violates the right to equality, an appeal for damages may be filed. Further, it was stated by Chief Justice Holt that “Any injury imports harm even if it does not cost the party one farthing. In the case of damage not only pecuniary but also injury, the damage is imported if a person is hampered in his or her rights.

DAMNUM SINE INJURIA

Damnum Sine Injuria is used in the law of torts, where there were damages without the violation of a legal right. According to the maxim, when the damage is not coupled with an unauthorized interference with the legal right of an individual then there is no case.

In such cases, when there is no infringement of a legal right yet the plaintiff suffers injury or damage, the plaintiff is unable to initiate an action against the other because it is not actionable in law unless there is some infringement of a legal right.

Yes, so there needs to be an infringement of a legal right or else there is no case.

The literal definition of Damnum Sine Injuria is loss or harm in terms of money, property, or any physical loss that occurs without the breach of any legal right.

Landmark Cases Related to Damnum Sine Injuria

Case of Gloucester Grammar School [1410]

The defendant, a schoolmaster, purposefully opened his school in front of the plaintiff’s, causing him harm. Due to increased competition, the plaintiff has had to lower its rates from 40 pence per scholar per quarter to 12 cents per learner each quarter. It was decided that, even though the plaintiff was harmed, the defendant could not be held accountable because there was no infringement of any legal right.

Mogul Steamship Co. Vs. McGregor Gow and Co. [1892]

In this case, a group of steamship firms banded together with the goal of driving the plaintiff’s company out of the tea-carrying business by decreasing and supplying help at a lowered price. The plaintiff was found to have no cause of action because the other corporations had not infringed on his legal rights.

CONCLUSION

These were the two primary maxims associated with the essential “legal damage”, a concept that allows one to get compensated in the case where their legal right is infringed (Injuria Sine Damnum). But if there was no infringement of a legal right then even if there were damages, there will be no cause of action (Damnum Sine Injuria).

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