Winterbottom v Wright – 1842

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Winterbottom v Wright (1842) 10 M & W 109

The availability of a claim where the claimant is not a party to the contract with the defendant.

Facts

The defendant contracted with the postmaster general to supply a mail coach for the purpose of carrying the mail along a particular route. A third party also contracted with the postmaster general to provide horses and a mail coachman to operate the mail coach. The claimant was the mail coachman contracted by the third party. The claimant was injured as a result of several latent defects in the coach and attempted to bring an action against the defendant with whom he had no contractual agreement.

Issues

Whether the defendant owed a duty to any third party who might be injured as a result of the negligent provision of the coach or indeed any other negligent actions in regard to the contract.

Held

The claimant’s claim failed. It was held that although the defendant contracted to maintain the mail coach in a safe condition and undoubtedly failed to do so, the duty was owed under the defendant’s contract with the postmaster general. The defendant owed no duty to the claimant because the duty could not extend beyond the contractual one. It was considered that to allow the claimant’s claim to succeed would cause a duty to be held in all circumstances where harm occurred. There would be no limit to the number of claims that might arise. It was recognised that leaving the claimant without remedy was harsh, but that this should not influence the court’s decision.

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