Damnum sine injuria

Damnum sine injuria means an actual and substantial loss without infringement of any legal right. In such a case no action lies. There are many harms of which loss takes no account and mere loss of money’s worth does not by itself constitute a legal damage. The essential requirement is the violation of a legal right.

There are many forms of harm of which the law takes no account,

(1) Loss inflicted on individual traders by competition in trade,

(2) Where the damage is done by a man acting under necessity to prevent a greater evil,

(3) Damage caused by defamatory statements made on a privileged occasion,

(4) Where the harm is too trivial, too indefinite or too difficult of proof,

(5) Where the harm done may be of such a nature that a criminal prosecution is more appropriate for example, in case of public nuisance or causing of death,

(6) There is no right of action for damages for contempt of court.

Gloucester Grammer School Case, The defendant, a schoolmaster, set up a rival school to that of the plaintiff. Because of the competition, the plaintiff had to reduce their fees. Held, the plaintiff had no remedy for the loss suffered by them. Hanker J. said “Damnum may be absque injuria as if I have a mill and my neighbour builds another mill whereby the profit of my mill is diminished… but if a miller disturbs the water from going to my mill, or does any nuisance of the like sort, I shall have such action as the law gives.”

Chesmore Vs Richards, The plaintiff, a mill owner was using water for over 60 years from a stream which was chiefly supplied by the percolating underground water. The defendants dug a well on their land deep enough to stop the larger volume of water going to plaintiff’s stream. Held, that the plaintiff has no right of action since it was a case of damnum sine injuria.

Bradford Corporation (Mayor of) Vs Pickles, In this case, the defendant was annoyed when Bradford Corporation refused to purchase his land in connection with the scheme of water supply for the inhabitants of the town. In the revenge the defendant sank a shaft over his land intentionally and intercepted the underground water which was flowing to the reservoir of the plaintiffs. Held, that the plaintiffs have no cause since the defendant was exercising his lawful right although the motive was to coerce the plaintiff to buy his land. The House of Lords approved the ruling in Chesmore Vs Richards.

Moghul Steamship Company Vs McGregor, Gow and Company, A number of steamship companies acting in combination agreed to regulate the cargoes and freight charges between China and Europe. A general rebate of 5 per cent was allowed to all suppliers who shipped with the members of the combination. As a result of this action, the plaintiffs had to bring down their rates to that level which was unremunerative to them. ‘Held, that there was no cause of action as the defendants had acted with lawful means to increase their trade and profits. No legal injury was caused and the case fell within the maxim damnum sine injuria.

Dickson Vs Renter’s Telegraph Company, ‘A’ sent a telegram to ‘B’ for the shipment of certain goods. The telegraph company mistaking the registered address of ‘C’ for that of ‘B’, delivered the telegram to ‘C’. ‘C’, acting on the telegram sent the goods to ‘A’ who refused to accept the goods stating that he had ordered the goods not from ‘C’ but from ‘B’. ‘C’ sued the Telegraph Company for damages for the loss suffered by him. Held, that ‘C’ had no cause of action against the company for the company did not owe any duty of care to ‘C’ and no legal rights to ‘C’ could, therefore, be said to have been infringed.

Rogers Vs Rajendera Dutt. The plaintiff owned a tug which was employed for towing the ships in charge of Government Pilots in Hoogly. The plaintiff demanded exorbitant price for towing the ship. Consequently, the Superintendent of Marine issued an order prohibiting the use of that tug in future whereby the owner was deprived of the profits. Held, that they had no legal right to have their tug employed by the Government.

Town Area Committee Vs Prabhu Dayal, A legal act, though motivated by malice, will not make the defendant liable. The plaintiff can get compensation only if he proves to have suffered injury because of an illegal act of the defendant. The plaintiff constructed 16 shops on the old foundations of a building, without giving a notice of intention to erect a building under section 178 of the Uttar. Pradesh Municipalities Act and without obtaining necessary sanction required under section 108 of that Act. The defendants (Town Area Committee) demolished this construction. In an action against the defendant to claim compensation for the demolition the plaintiff alleged that the action of the defendants was illegal as it was malafide, the municipal commissioner being an enemy of his. It was held that the defendants were not liable as no “injuria” (violation of a legal right) could be proved because if a person constructs a building illegally, the demolition of such building by the municipal authorities would not amount to causing “injuria” to the owner of the property.

In Acton Vs Blundell, the defendants by digging a coalpit intercepted the water which affected the plaintiff’s well, less than 20 years old, at a distance of about one mile. Held, they were not liable. It was observed, “The person who owns the surface may dug therein and apply all that is there found to his own purposes, at his free will and pleasure, and that in the exercise of such rights he intercepts or drains off the water collected from underground springs in the neighbour’s well, this inconvenience to his neighbour falls within description damnum absque injuria which cannot become the ground of action.”