RB Policies at Lloyd’s v Butler: 1949

A car insured by the plaintiffs had been stolen by an unknown person in June 1940. In January 1947 the car was found in the possession of the defendant who it seems had ‘given good consideration for it without knowledge that it was a stolen car’. It had passed to him ‘an innocent purchaser, through a line of intermediate purchasers’ during the previous seven years.
Held: Time begins to run against the owner of a stolen chattel from the date of the theft, even though the owner does not know the identity of the thief or the whereabouts of the chattel.
Streatfeild J discussed the 1939 Act, saying: ‘The section was inserted to protect a plaintiff who was ignorant of his right of action in the special case of fraudulent concealment, and to overcome the difficulty that time would otherwise have been running against him, unknown to himself. But for the section, time would have run against him from the accrual of his right of action, for it is to be noted that the section, even in the case of fraudulent concealment, does not say that the cause of action shall not accrue until the fraud is discovered, but simply that ‘time shall not begin to run’ until that event.
It is to be noted that s 26 is the only provision in the Limitation Act 1939, in which a special exception of that nature is made. Nowhere is it to be found that where a person, who otherwise has a perfect cause of action, cannot pursue it because the defendant is unknown, time does not run. And it seems to me, therefore, that prima facie as soon as there is a cause of action (as there clearly was in the present case the moment the motor car was stolen) time begins to run notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff is ignorant of the identity of the defendant. . . It was, no doubt, a misfortune to the plaintiffs that they could not find a defendant whose name they could insert in a writ; but every other ingredient of the cause of action was present. The motor car had, in fact, been converted. A statement of claim could have been drawn without any difficulty; the only item missing being the name of the defendant.’
. . And ‘Can it be said, therefore, that the cause of action being otherwise complete, the ignorance of the owner of the car of the identity of the person against whom he could bring an action was of itself sufficient to prevent the accrual of that cause of action? I think not, and I agree with the argument of Mr Jackson. If that were so it would lead to appalling results. As Mr Jackson suggested to me, if his watch were stolen, and he discovered it years later, in the pocket of a wholly innocent person who had bought it many years before, it would follow that, if the plaintiffs are right, he could bring an action for the recovery of his watch merely because he had not known who was the original thief. I cannot think that that is the policy of the Act, or that to construe its words in favour of the plaintiffs’ argument would harmonize with the intention of the legislature’

Streatfeild J
[1950] 1 KB 76, [1949] 2 All ER 226
Limitation Act 1939 26
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedAdamson and Others v Paddico (267) Ltd SC 5-Feb-2014
Land had been registered as a town or village green but wrongly so. The claimant had sought rectification, but the respondents argued that the long time elapsed after registration should defeat the request.
Held: The appeal were solely as to . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Equity, Limitation

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.539583