Groves v Lord Wimborne [1898] 2 Q.B. 402

Mr Groves was working at the Dowlais Iron Works. He was employed by Lord Wimborne. Mr Groves caught his right arm in the cogs of a steam winch and subsequently had to undergo an amputation.

There had originally been a protective fence for the winch but it had been removed prior to the accident.

A claim was brought arguing that the fencing provisions of Section 5 of the Factory and Workshop Act 1878 had been breached and that as a consequence Mr Groves was entitled to compensation. The Act did not  specifically refer to any right to compensation on a civil basis.  Lord Wimborne argued that because there was a criminal penalty specified for breach of the Act, he therefore could not be liable to pay civil damages.

AL Smith LJ said,

“The Act now in question, as I have said, was clearly passed in favour of workers employed in factories and workshops, and to compel their employers to perform certain statutory duties for their protection and benefit.”

Vaughan LJ said,

“it cannot be doubted that, where a statute provides for the performance by certain persons of a particular duty, and some one belonging to a class of persons for whose benefit and protection the statute imposes the duty is injured by failure to perform it, primâ facie, and, if there be nothing to the contrary, an action by the person so injured will lie against the person who has so failed to perform the duty.”

 The court held that even though the statute did not specify the right to civil damages in the event of its breach, damages should nevertheless be recoverable.

Background Note

The topic was also addressed in two earlier cases

In Gorris v Scott (1873-74) L.R. 9 Ex. 125 the owner of some sheep lost them when they were washed overboard. He sued the ship owner saying that section 75 of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, 1869 had required the ship owner to take precautions. The precautions were required to prevent overcrowding. The claimant did not recover because section 75 was not intended to protect him.

In Ross v Rugge-Price (1876) 1 Ex. D. 269 the Forest of Dean Act provided for the making of rules and regulations. In breach of these, the defendant stopped draining  his own mine with the consequence that the claimant’s mine was flooded. The claimant recovered damages because it had clearly been intended that the some compensation should be payable.

Ross is of interest because here you see an early form of the argument ’we did all that was reasonable given what we knew’: in Ross the court rejected an argument that the defendant should not be liable because it did not have notice of the damage to which the claimant was exposed