Phillips v Britannia Hygienic Laundry Co Ltd
Court of Appeal
Citations:  2 KB 832.
The defendant owned a lorry which, through no fault of theirs, had defective fittings. While on the highway, the lorry’s axle broke and a wheel came off. The wheel hit the claimant’s vehicle and damaged it. At the time, a statute made it a criminal offence to drive a vehicle on the highway with fittings likely to cause danger to others. The claimant sued the defendant for breach of statutory duty based on this provision.
- Did the statute create a private action for damages?
The Court of Appeal held in favour of the defendant. Parliament did not intend for the statutory duty to be actionable in damages.
This Case is Authority For…
Bankes LJ held that where the statute creates a duty which is so broad that it is essentially owed to the public at large, the court will normally conclude that Parliament did not intend for breach of that duty to give rise to a private action for damages. Here, the narrowest identifiable ‘class’ was ‘users of the highway’. Bankes LJ deemed this not to be a class at all, but the public at large.
Atkin LJ disagreed, commenting that it is possible for a duty to the public at large to give rise to a private action for damages. However, he thought that this would only be the case where the duty is very important and there are other indications that Parliament did not intend it to be purely public. This was not the case on these facts.
The third judge, Younger LJ, agreed with the conclusions of both judges but did not give his own reasoning.