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In re Polemis

Citation. 3 K.B. 560 (1921)
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Citation. 3 K.B. 560 (1921)

Brief Fact Summary.

Defendants dropped a board into the ship owned by Polemis (Plaintiff), causing an explosion.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A defendant is liable for all damage resulting from their negligence even if the exact type or extent could not be foreseen.


Polemis (Plaintiff) rented its ship to Defendants. Defendants used the ship to carry gasoline, which had leaked flammable vapors into the interior of the ship. Defendants put wooden boards over the opening of a hatch to rest cargo on as they pulled it out of the interior. One of the ropes used for that task bumped a board and made it fall into the interior of the ship. This led to an explosion that destroyed the ship.


Can Defendants be held liable for their negligence where they could not foresee the exact harm that eventually occurred?


Yes, the Court held that Defendants can be held liable for damages that occurred from their negligence even though they did not know the exact harm that would result.


Justice L.J. Scrutton

The concurrence specifies that when something a defendant does would probably cause damage, it does not matter whether the damage caused is what would be expected. It was negligent for Defendants to knock over the board because something or someone could have been damaged, and it does not matter that the explosion was not expected.


The Court rejected the defendants’ arguments that there should be a difference between foreseeing the extent of damage and foreseeing the type of damage. The Court held that it is immaterial that Defendants could not have anticipated the explosion.

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