Death of a person and actionable injury in civil court

Can we claim damages in case of death of a person arising out of a tort? This was answered by the King’s Bench Division of England and Wales High Court in the famous case of Baker v. Bolton ([1808] EWHC KB J92; (1808) 1 Camp 493; 170 ER 1033).

It was a case where, the wife of the plaintiff suffered an injury while travelling in a train and subsequently resulted in her death. The major issue came for consideration in this case was whether, damages for negligence was entitled to a man for the grief he suffered as a result of his wife?

In general for either type of damage damages cannot be recovered under the law of torts.  According to English law, a personal cause of action comes to an end when the person dies. Therefore, the death of a person cannot be complained as an actionable injury in an ordinary civil court. This rule was laid down in Baker v. Bolton.

It was also observed by the King’s Bench in the said case that, the jury could only take into consideration the bruises which the plaintiff had himself sustained, and the loss of his wife’s society, and the distress of mind he had suffered on her account, from the time of the accident till the moment of her dissolution.

Above observation was made by the King’s Bench based on the maxim actio personalis moritur cum persona. However, referring to the observation of Honourable Supreme Court of India in the PA Tendolkar case (AIR 1973 SC 1104) the rule of Baker v. Bolton cannot be applied in those cases where the cause of action is based on a breach of contract.

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