Fenton v J Thorley and Co Ltd: HL 1903

A workman who ruptured himself by an act of over-exertion in trying to turn a wheel was held to have suffered an injury ‘by accident.’ The act of turning the wheel was not in itself an accident. But the injury which the man sustained while carrying out this task fell within the ordinary meaning of the word, looking to the effect rather than to the cause. In the Workers Compensation Acts, the word ‘accident’ is to be given a wide meaning.
Lord Lindley said: ‘The word ‘accident’ is not a technical legal term with a clearly defined meaning. Speaking generally, but with reference to legal liabilities, an accident means any unintended and unexpected occurrence which produces hurt or loss. But it is often used to denote any unintended and unexpected loss or hurt apart from its cause; and if the cause is not known the loss or hurt itself would certainly be called an accident. The word ‘accident’ is also often used to denote both the cause and the effect, no attempt being made to discriminate between them.’
Lord Shand: ‘I shall only add that, concurring as I fully do in holding that the word ‘accident’ in the statute is to be taken in its popular and ordinary sense, I think it denotes or includes any unexpected personal injury resulting to the workman in the course of his employment from any unlooked-for mishap or occurrence.’
Lord Macnaghten: ‘the expression ‘accident’ is used in the popular and ordinary sense of the word as denoting an unlooked – for mishap or an untoward event which is not expected or designed.’


Lord Macnaghten, Lord Shand, Lord Lindley


[1903] AC 443


Workers Compensation Act 1897


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedDeep Vein Thrombosis and Air Travel Group Litigation HL 8-Dec-2005
The appellants had suffered deep vein thrombosis whilst travelling on long haul air flights. The defendants said that their liability was limited because the injuries were not accidents.
Held: The claimants’ appeal failed. The definition of . .
CitedRegina v Morris 1972
Whether the particular facts of a case amount to an accident is a question of law. In a case of disputed facts under s2(2) of the 1967 Act it is for the jury to decide the facts and apply to the facts found the judge’s direction as to the meaning of . .
CitedCurrie, Regina v CACD 26-Apr-2007
The defendant appealed his conviction for dangerous driving. The failure of the police to serve him with a notice of intended prosecution invalidated the conviction. The police replied that there was no need for such a notice because there had been . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury

Updated: 30 April 2022; Ref: scu.219835