Personal Representatives of Tang Man Sit v Capacious Investments Ltd: PC 18 Dec 1995

The claimant, Capacious Investments Ltd, brought proceedings against Tang’s estate for damages for the loss of use and occupation, and also an account of profits and damages for loss and damage incurred, for example by encumbering the property with leases. It obtained an account of profits and an award of compensatory damages as a result of the same breach of trust. The PRs appealed.
Held: The claimant could elect to receive the higher award to which it was entitled but it had to give credit against the damages for loss of use and occupation for the sums received pursuant to the account of profits. Moreover, there was nothing inconsistent between the claim for damage to the property and the claim for damages for loss of use. These were in effect cumulative remedies claimed on a basis which was consistent between themselves.
An action for account is an alternative claim, and is not cumulative to a claim for damages. Courts should distinguish election between remedies from election between rights.
Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead ex plained the nature of alternative and cumulative damages awards: ‘The law frequently affords an injured person more than one remedy for the wrong he has suffered. Sometimes the two remedies are alternative and inconsistent. The classic example, indeed, is (1) an account of the profits made by a defendant in breach of his fiduciary obligations and (2) damages for the loss suffered by the plaintiff by reason of the same breach. The former is measured by the wrongdoer’s gain, the latter by the injured party’s loss.
Sometimes the two remedies are cumulative. Cumulative remedies may lie against one person. A person fraudulently induced to enter into a contract may have the contract set aside and also sue for damages. Or there may be cumulative remedies against more than one person. A plaintiff may have a cause of action in negligence against two persons in respect of the same loss.
Alternative remedies
Faced with alternative and inconsistent remedies a plaintiff must choose, or elect, between them. He cannot have both. The basic principle governing when a plaintiff must make his choice is simple and clear. He is required to choose when, but not before, judgment is given in his favour and the judge is asked to make orders against the defendant. A plaintiff is not required to make his choice when he launches his proceedings. He may claim one remedy initially, and then by amendment of his writ and his pleadings abandon that claim in favour of the other. He may claim both remedies, as alternatives. But he must make up his mind when judgment is being entered against the defendant. Court orders are intended to be obeyed. In the nature of things, therefore, the court should not make orders which would afford a plaintiff both of two alternative remedies.
In the ordinary course, by the time the trial is concluded a plaintiff will know which remedy is more advantageous to him. By then, if not before, he will know enough of the facts to assess where his best interests lie. There will be nothing unfair in requiring him to elect at that stage. Occasionally this may not be so. This is more likely to happen when the judgment is a default judgment or a summary judgment than at the conclusion of a trial. A plaintiff may not know how much money the defendant has made from the wrongful use of his property. It may be unreasonable to require the plaintiff to make his choice without further information. To meet this difficulty, the court may make discovery and other orders designed to give the plaintiff the information he needs, and which in fairness he ought to have, before deciding upon his remedy. A recent instance where this was done is the decision of Lightman J. in Island Records Ltd. v. Tring International Plc. [1995] 3 All E.R. 444. The court will take care to ensure that such an order is not oppressive to a defendant.
In the ordinary course the decision made when judgment is entered is made once and for all. That is the normal rule. The order is a final order, and the interests of the parties and the public interest alike dictate that there should be finality. The principle, however, is not rigid and unbending. Like all procedural principles, the established principles regarding election between alternative remedies are not fixed and unyielding rules. These principles are the means to an end, not the end in themselves. They are no more than practical applications of a general and overriding principle governing the conduct of legal proceedings, namely, that proceedings should be conducted in a manner which strikes a fair and reasonable balance between the interests of the parties, having proper regard also to the wider public interest in the conduct of court proceedings. Thus in Johnson v. Agnew [1980] A.C. 367 the House of Lords held that when specific performance fails to be realised, an order for specific performance may subsequently be discharged and an inquiry as to damages ordered. Lord Wilberforce observed, at p. 398: ‘Election, though the subject of much learning and refinement, is in the end a doctrine based on simple considerations of common sense and equity.
Cumulative remedies
The procedural principles applicable to cumulative remedies are necessarily different. Faced with alternative and inconsistent remedies a plaintiff must choose between them. Faced with cumulative remedies a plaintiff is not required to choose. He may have both remedies. He may pursue one remedy or the other remedy or both remedies, just as he wishes. It is a matter for him. He may obtain judgment for both remedies and enforce both judgments. When the remedies are against two different people, he may sue both persons. He may do so concurrently, and obtain judgment against both. Damages to the full value of goods which have been converted may be awarded against two persons for successive conversions of the same goods. Or the plaintiff may sue the two persons successively. He may obtain judgment against one, and take steps to enforce the judgment. This does not preclude him from then suing the other. There are limitations to this freedom. One limitation is the so called rule in Henderson v. Henderson (1843) 3 Hare 100. In the interests of fairness and finality a plaintiff is required to bring forward his whole case against a defendant in one action. Another limitation is that the court has power to ensure that, when fairness so requires, claims against more than one person shall all be tried and decided together. A third limitation is that a plaintiff cannot recover in the aggregate from one or more defendants an amount in excess of his loss. Part satisfaction of a judgment against one person does not operate as a bar to the plaintiff thereafter bringing an action against another who is also liable, but it does operate to reduce the amount recoverable in the second action. However, once a plaintiff has fully recouped his loss, of necessity he cannot thereafter pursue any other remedy he might have and which he might have pursued earlier. Having recouped the whole of his loss, any further proceedings would lack a subject matter. This principle of full satisfaction prevents double recovery.’


Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead


Gazette 07-Feb-1996, Times 26-Dec-1995, [1996] AC 514, [1995] UKPC 54, [1996] 1 All ER 193, [1996] 2 WLR 192




CitedHenderson v Henderson 20-Jul-1843
Abuse of Process and Re-litigation
The court set down the principles to be applied in abuse of process cases, where a matter was raised again which should have been dealt with in earlier proceedings.
Sir James Wigram VC said: ‘In trying this question I believe I state the rule . .
CitedJohnson v Agnew HL 1979
The seller had obtained a summary order for specific performance of a contract for the sale of land against the buyer.
Held: The breach was continuing and was still capable of being remedied by compliance with the order for specific . .
CitedIsland Records Ltd v Tring International Plc and Another ChD 12-Apr-1995
A copyright plaintiff may delay the choice of his remedy between damages and account of profits until information was available from the defendant which would allow him to gauge which remedy suited him best. The court may make the orders necessary . .

Cited by:

CitedWestminster City Council v Porter and Another ChD 30-Jul-2002
The claimant authority sought compensation from the respondents for acts committed whilst she had been a councillor. The auditor had certified that the respondents had caused losses amounting to 31 million pounds.
Held: Summary judgement was . .
CitedOliver Ashworth (Holdings) Limited v Ballard (Kent) Limited CA 18-Mar-1999
In order for the landlord to claim double rent where a tenant held over unlawfully after the tenancy was determined, the landlord must not do anything to indicate that the lease might be continuing, for example by denying the validity of break . .
CitedHeaton and Others v AXA Equity and Law Life Assurance Society plc and Another HL 25-Apr-2002
The claimant had settled one claim in full and final satisfaction against one party, but then sought further damages from the defendant, for issues related to a second but linked contract. The defendant claimed the benefit of the settlement.
CitedRamzan v Brookwide Ltd CA 19-Aug-2011
The defendant had broken through into a neighbour’s flying freehold room, closed it off, and then included it in its own premises for let. It now appealed against the quantum of damages awarded. The judge had found the actions deliberate and with a . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Damages, Commonwealth

Updated: 19 May 2022; Ref: scu.84679