Legal Damage

Legal damage is an important ingredient in constituting a tort. To prove an action for tort, the plaintiff has to prove that there has been a wrongful act, an act or omission of an act which has caused a breach of a legal duty or violation of any legal right which is vested in the plaintiff. To take an action for tort there must be violation of a legal right. If there is no violation of legal right there cannot be any action.

If there has been violation of a legal right, the same is actionable whether the plaintiff has suffered any loss or not. This is expressed by the maxim, “Injuria sine damnun”, ‘Injuria’ refers to infringement of a legal right and the term ‘damnum’ means harm, loss or damage. The term ‘sine’ means without. However, if there is no violation of a legal right, no action can lie in a court despite of the loss, harm or damage to the plaintiff caused by the defendant. This is expressed by the maxim “Damnum sine injuria”.

The following two maxims are discussed above in detail.

Injuria sine damno

The maxim injuria sine damno means that there has been violation of legal right without any loss or damage. In such cases the person whose right is violated has a good cause of action. It is not necessary to prove any special damage. The infringement of right is actionable per se. What is required to show is the violation of a right in which case the law will presume damage. Thus, in cases of assault, battery, false imprisonment, libel etc., the mere wrongful act is actionable without proof of special damage. The Court is bound to award to the plaintiff at least nominal damages if no actual damage is proved.  

Essentials of the maxim:-

1) Infringement of a legal right of a person.

2) No actual loss or damage is required to prove.

3) Infringement of a private right is actionable per se.

Ashby v. White is a leading case explaining the maxim injuria sine Damno. In this case, the plaintiff was a qualified voter at a Parliamentary election, but the defendant, a returning officer, wrongfully refused to take plaintiff’s vote. No loss was suffered by such refusal because the candidate for whom he wanted to vote won the election in spite of that. It was held that the defendant was liable.

Another case is of Bhim Singh v. State of J. & K., the petitioner, an M.L.A. of J & K. Assembly, was wrongfully detained by the police while he was going to attend the Assembly session. He was not produced before the Magistrate within requisite period. As a consequence of this, the member was deprived of his constitutional right to attend the Assembly session. There was also violation of fundamental right to personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. By the time the petition was decided by the Supreme Court, Bhim Singh had been released, but by way of consequential relief, exemplary damages amounting to Rs. 50,000 were awarded to him.

Damnum sine injuria

Damnum sine injuriameans an actual and substantial loss without infringement of any legal right. In such a case no action lies. There is much harm 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 Grammar School Case explains the point.

There the defendant, a schoolmaster, set up a rival school opposite to that of the plaintiff. Because of the competition, the plaintiffs had to reduce their fees from 40 pence to 12 pence per scholar per quarter. It was held that the plaintiffs had no remedy for the loss thus suffered by them.

In Chesmore v. Richards, the plaintiff, a mill owner, was for the past 60 years, using water for his mill from a stream which was fed by rainfall percolating through underground way to the stream, but not flowing in defined channels. The defendants sunk a well on their land and pumped large quantities of water, which would otherwise have gone to the plaintiff’s stream, thereby causing loss to the plaintiff. For this, the defendants were held not liable.

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