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Winterbottom v. Wright Case Brief

Summary of Winterbottom v. Wright, Exhequer of Pleas, ENG.  1842

Common Law Limitation on Duty- Privity of Contract

Relevant Facts: Df wright was a manufacturer and repairer of mail coaches. He contracted with the Postmaster to keep the coaches in a safe and secure condition.  Df failed to comply with his promise and PL, a driver, was seriously injured as a result.

Legal Issue(s): Whether df’s breach of contract entitles the pl to recover for his injuries?

Court’s Holding: No

Procedure: Unclear.

Law or Rule(s): The right to recover for a breach of contract, or privity of contract, is confined to those who enter into the contract.

Court Rationale:   The contract was between the df and the Postmaster and not the pl.  If similar pls were allowed to sue there would be unlimited actions. The operation of contracts should be confined to those who entered into them.  The df did not injure the public, nor create a public nuisance, therefor he is not liable.  There is no public duty, a carrier cannot be sued unless a duty existed between the df and pl.

Plaintiff’s Argument: As servant to the df, the breach of the df’s duty under the contract caused an injury, the df’s duty to avoid such extended to the pl.

Defendant’s Argument: There is no privity of contract between the df and the pl, and the df did not owe a duty to the pl.

Assumpsit – a promise

Damnum absque injuria – Loss hurt or harm without injury in a legal sense.




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