Boys v Chaplin: HL 1969

The plaintiff sued in England for a traffic accident which had happened in Malta. The law of Malta would have denied certain elements of damages which would be available in this jurisdiction.
Held: Liability in respect of the road accident in which only English parties were involved was governed by English law. The House was asked whether the rule which excluded liability for non-economic damages was substantive law or concerned only the remedies available. (Majority) The rule was part of the substantive law of tort liability. This was a ‘general’ rule which would ‘normally’ apply to foreign torts. The rule should be interpreted flexibly, ‘so as to leave some latitude in cases where it would be against public policy to admit or to exclude claims’. So far as damages are concerned it is a question for the substantive law whether a head of damage is recoverable, but quantification of the actual head is procedural. The House also considered the double-actionability rule.
Lord Hodson said: ‘I am now, however, persuaded that questions such as whether loss of earning capacity or pain and suffering are admissible heads of damage must be questions of substantive law. The law relating to damages is partly procedural and partly substantive, the actual quantification under the relevant heads being procedural only.’
Lord Wilberforce said: ‘The broad principle should surely be that a person should not be permitted to claim in England in respect of a matter for which civil liability does not exist, or is excluded, under the law of the place where the wrong was committed. This non-existence of exclusion may be for a variety of reasons and it would be unwise to attempt a generalisation relevant to the variety of possible wrongs. But in relation to claims for personal injuries one may say that provisions of the lex delicti, denying, or limiting, or qualifying recovery of damages because of some relationship of the defendant to the plaintiff, or in respect of some interest of the plaintiff (such as loss of consortium) or some head of damage (such as pain and suffering) should be given effect to.’
Lord Pearson said: ‘If the difference between the English law and the Maltese law could be regarded only as a difference of procedural (or adjectival or non-substantive) law, there would be an easy solution of the problem in this appeal. On that basis the nature and extent of the remedy would be matters of procedural law regulated by the lex fori, which is English, and the proper remedy for the plaintiff in this case according to English law would be that he should recover damages for all the relevant consequences of the accident, including pain and suffering as well as pecuniary expense and loss . . But I am not convinced that the difference between the English law and the Maltese law can reasonably be regarded as only a difference of procedural law. There is a radical difference in the cause of action, the right of action, the jus actionis. A claim to be reimbursed or indemnified or compensated for actual economic loss is substantially different in character from a claim for damages for all the relevant consequences of the accident to the plaintiff, including pain and suffering. If an accident caused no economic loss, but only pain and suffering, there would be a cause of action according to English law, but not according to Maltese law. Surely that must be a matter of substantive law.’
Lord Guest (dissenting): ‘It would not be correct, in my view, to talk of compensation for pain and suffering as a head of damage apart from patrimonial loss. It is merely an element in the quantification of the total compensation’
Lord Donovan (dissenting) said that once the claim was actionable in an English court, ‘it was right that it should award its own remedies’.


Hodson, Wilberforce, Pearson LL


[1971] AC 356, [1969] 3 WLR 322, [1969] 2 All ER 1085


England and Wales


Appeal fromBoys v Chaplin CA 1968
The plaintiff had been injured in a road accident in Malta. By the law of Malta, non-economic damage (pain and suffering, loss of amenity) was not actionable. Only financial loss was compensatable. The plaintiff brought proceedings in England. The . .

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Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Jurisdiction, Damages

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.222521