Philips v William Whiteley Ltd – Case Summary

Philips v William Whiteley Ltd

High Court

Citations: [1938] 1 All ER 566.


The claimant went to have her ears pierced at the defendants’ jewellers. Prior to the piercing, the jeweller washed his hands and sterilised his instruments in a fire and lysol. More than two weeks later, after spending time in a nursing home for a major surgery, the claimant developed an abscess. The abscess was due to an infection which had entered her body through the hole in her ear. The claimant sued the defendant in negligence.

  1. Had the jeweller breached the duty of care owed to the claimant?
  2. Had the jeweller’s actions caused the infection?

The High Court held in favour of the defendant. The jeweller had not breached his duty of care to the claimant: he had taken perfectly reasonable precautions against infection. In any case, the claimant could not prove that the defendant was responsible for the infection. It was more likely that the infection entered her ear at a later date.

This Case is Authority For…

Jewellers are not required to take the same precautions as medical surgeons when piercing ears to comply with their duty of care. They need only take those precautions thought necessary by reasonable jewellers.