Steamship Mutual Underwriting Association Ltd v Trollope and Colls Ltd: CA 1986

The employers sued the builders and architects alleging defects in the air conditioning system. Later, cracking and displacement of the walls was discovered, caused allegedly by not having sulphate resisting cement, and defects in the wall ties. Allegations were made against the contractors and the architects and also structural engineers. The question then arose whether the amendments raised new claims for the purposes of section 35 of the 1980 Act.
Held: May LJ said: ‘I think it is necessary to adopt a broad approach to these cases. At the stage of the issue of the writ or the service of the statement of claim, in the present context one is not, as I think, concerned with the minutiae of the cause of action which will ultimately have to be investigated at the trial. In the Limitation Act context, one asks in quite broad terms whether the relevant factual situation . . first came about, first was suable upon more than the three, six or twelve years previously. In the res judicata context one has to ask whether the issues in the hypothetical second action were realistically before the court in the hypothetical first action. Merely to rely upon the propositions which I have already quoted from Brunsden v Humphrey in the judgment of Bowen LJ, which was referred to in the judgment of Sankey LJ in Conquer v Boot , that it is a well settled rule of law that damages resulting from one and the same cause of action must be assessed and recovered once and for all, (entirely accurate though that is and I would not wish, with respect, to differ at all), nevertheless in the instant context I think that it effectively begs the whole question at the outset.’
and ‘In the present case, if one remembers what a cause of action is (for instance, to refer back to the dictum in Letang), if one looks to the size of this particular building, to its complexities, to other matters of degree, to the statement of claim before the proposed reamendment, to the attitude of the appellants’ solicitors in the correspondence at the material time, to which I have referred, and avoids what I think are unnecessary subtleties, I feel bound to agree with the learned judge where he concluded, having referred to the cases on what is a cause of action, the statement of claim in both its original and amended form related only to the air conditioning. I think that its effect was to narrow the causes of action so that they became confined to breaches of contract concerned with air conditioning and negligence resulting in damages to the air conditioning. In the light of the definitions of a cause of action already referred to, I do not think one can look only to the duty on a party, but one must look also to the nature and extent of the breach relied upon, as well as to the nature and extent of the damage complained of in deciding whether, as a matter of degree, a new cause of action is sought to be relied upon. The mere fact that one is considering what are, as it is said, after all only different defects to the same building, does not necessarily mean in any way that they are constituents of one and the same cause of action.
Thus I conclude that whether there is a new cause of action in any circumstances is a mixed question of law and fact. I am satisfied that the learned judge correctly directed himself on the law on this point, and not only am I unable to say that he applied the law incorrectly to the facts of the case, I think positively that he applied that law correctly to the facts of the case.’
and ‘In my opinion, to issue a writ against a party . . when it is not intended to serve a statement of claim, and where one has no reasonable evidence or grounds on which to serve a statement of claim against that particular party, is an abuse of the process of the court.’
Lloyd LJ said: ‘in each case it will depend on the facts whether the damage gives rise to a separate cause of action, or not’ and ‘there may be separate causes of action in relation to the same building, depending upon the facts of the case.’


Lloyd LJ and May LJ


[1986] 33 BLR 77


Limitation Act 1980 35


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedSavings and Investment Bank Ltd (in Liquidation) v Fincken CA 6-Nov-2001
When the court was asked to decide whether a proposed form of amendment to the pleadings would add an issue which was out of time, the court must look to the pleadings before and after the proposed amendment, and the factual issues which would have . .
CitedMcDonalds Corp and Another v Steel and Another CA 25-Mar-1994
The plaintiff company had sued the defendants in defamation with regard to a leaflet publishd and distributed by them. The defendants argued justification. The defendants appealed against an order striking out parts of their defence, saying that the . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Construction, Limitation, Litigation Practice

Updated: 29 April 2022; Ref: scu.183221