Contract Law case

The judges considered and rejected the claims, cited by the judge in the original case, that she was in fact in no danger at all as her incarceration occurred at an early time of day and anyway her husband knew where she was and would soon search for her due to the impending departure of the bus. At this point it can also be noted that throughout the reasoning of all three judges they explicitly use an objective test of inconvenience and danger in establishing remoteness.

They frequently refer to the feeling of a "reasonable" person in the claimant's position, as can be seen in the quote above and in the speech of Lord Ormerod when he said "I do not think anyone could say that she had done anything unreasonable"Having decided the fact of the liability of the defendants for the injury suffered to the claimant Lord Evershed turned to the second question of whether the claimant had in anyway added to her misfortunes by her conduct.

The way contributory negligence s considered in English Law had undergone a major change in the few years preceding this case with the introduction of the Law Reform Act (Contributory Negligence) 1945. Section 1 (1) of the act states that a claimant will have his damages reduced if he has in some way contributed to the extent of his injuries. Previous to this any contributory negligence by the claimant in an action for damages would cause their claim to fail. This issue was not lost on Lord Evershed who indicated there might have been some doubt as to the correctness of Adams v Lancs &Yorks Ry Co. had the Act been in place at the time.

He pointed out that one of the judges, albeit in minority, had allowed the case to fail, not on remoteness, but on the issue of contributory negligence. Had the Act been in place at the time, the judge in question, Brett J would have held that the action should succeed. In the current case the three judges held that the claimant had been, in some manner, the authoress of her own misfortune.

The judges agreed that in trying to escape the claimant had been justified, and was not acting unreasonably. They agreed that in this endeavour, it was reasonable to see if escaping over the gap in the door was possible. However it was held that in trying to climb down, resting the whole of her weight on a slender toilet roll holder, which true its nature turned round when leaned on, was not quite as reasonable.

They therefore decided that this act of foolishness should reduce the amount of damages due by one quarter. Sayers then, is a case useful in situations in proving a claimant's right to escape from perilous or gravely inconvenient situations by any means less perilous, and still sue for injuries sustained by that act. However a recent decision confines this It is also often used in situations, (such as in Basildon District Council v JE Lesser (Properties) Ltd and Others8) where a claim of contributory negligence, under the 1945 act is used as a defence as an action against claims of breach of contract. In general Sayers is used to show that although the claim for damages would have been the same whether it was a breach of duty of care implied in a contract, or in tort, the effect of the Act only applies in tort.


1) Sayers v Harlow v Urban District Council [1958] 2 All ER 342 [195] 1 WLR 623 Found on the Lexis database of law reports:

2) Contract Law, Ewan McKendrick, Palgrave, Hampshire UK and New York USA, 2000 1 Lord Evershed M.R., Sayers v Harlow UDC Court of Appeal [1958] 1 WLR 623 (Lexis pg 3). 2 Ewan McKendrick, Contract Law, Palgrave, Hampshire UK and New York USA, 2000 pg 415.