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Winterbottom v. Wright

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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Winterbottom v. Wright
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    Brief Fact Summary. The Defendant, Mr. Wright (Defendant), contracted with the Postmaster General to keep coaches in working order. The Defendant failed to uphold his duty and the Plaintiff, Mr. Winterbottom (Plaintiff), was injured as a result.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A plaintiff cannot bring tort claims against a defendant for nonfeasance that resulted from a contract which plaintiff was not privy to.

    Facts. Plaintiff, a mail coach driver, was seriously injured when a vehicle broke down due to lack of repair. Defendant had contracted with the Postmaster General to keep the coach in safe and secure condition. Defendant failed to comply with this promise, resulting in Plaintiff’s injuries.

    Issue. Does Defendant owe a duty of care to Plaintiff, such that he is liable for injuries caused to Plaintiff caused by Defendant’s negligence?

    Held. No. Judgment for the Defendant.
    * Lord Abinger, C.B. The plaintiff is not privy to the contract entered into between the Defendant and the Postmaster General. Just as the Plaintiff cannot sue on the contract, he cannot sue in tort claiming that Defendant owes a duty to him.
    * Lord Alderson, B. Not containing the right to recover to those who enter into the contract would open up an endless and unstoppable allowance for suit.
    * Lord Rolfe, B. Although the Defendant took on a duty to maintain the carriages, he undertook no duty towards the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff may be without remedy, but this cannot influence the decision.

    Discussion. This case was universally interpreted as applying to any negligence, including misfeasance. It was later pointed out that the case actually only involved nonfeasance.


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