Herd v Weardale Steel Coal & Coke Co Ltd – Case Summary

Herd v Weardale Steel Coal & Coke Co Ltd

House of Lords

Citations: [1915] AC 67.


The defendant employed the claimant to work in a mine. The only way in and out of the mine was via a lift. Normally, the claimant would be lowered into the mine at 9:30 am and lifted out at 4 pm. At 11 pm, the claimant refused to work and demanded to be let out. The defendant refused, telling him that he would have to wait until 4 pm because the lift in use transporting coal. The claimant was not released until 1:30 pm, even though the lift was available for human use at 1:10 pm.

The claimant sued the defendant for false imprisonment. He claimed he was unlawfully detained for the twenty minutes he had to wait to use the lift after it was ready. The defendant justified their actions because the claimant breached his employment contract by refusing to work.

  1. Was the defendant’s refusal to allow the claimant to use the lift ‘detention’ for the purposes of false imprisonment?

The House of Lords held in favour of the defendant. The claimant had voluntarily chosen to go into the mine knowing there was normally no way out until 4 pm. As such, he could not argue that the defendant’s failure to provide him a way out earlier was false imprisonment.

This Case is Authority For…

Where the claimant voluntarily enters an area knowing they will not be able to get out except under certain conditions agreed with the defendant, the defendant’s failure to extricate the claimant against those terms does not count as ‘detention’ for the purposes of the tort of false imprisonment.


The Lords alternated between treating the principles in this case as an application of the defence of volenti non fit injuria, and treating them as meaning that false imprisonment was not established to begin with.