Stoke-on-Trent City Council v W and J Wass Ltd: CA 1988

The council had operated open markets on its land under statutory authority. In breach of the statute, the defendant operated a market on a different day, but within the excluded area. This was a nuisance actionable on proof of damage. The council sought damages and an injunction. It was awarded an injunction and damages in the amount of the licence fees it would have been able to charge.
Held: The award of damages was incorrect. Rules relating to damages for breach of restrictive covenant were not applicable to such a situation. The damages awarded should have been nominal at most.
Nourse LJ said: ‘The general rule is that a successful plaintiff in an action in tort recovers damages equivalent to the loss which he has suffered, no more and no less. If he has suffered no loss, the most he can recover are nominal damages. A second general rule is that where the plaintiff has suffered loss to his property or some proprietary right, he recovers damages equivalent to the diminution in value of the property or right. The authorities establish that both these rules are subject to exceptions. These must be closely examined, in order to see whether a further exception ought to be made in this case.’ and as to torts of trespass etc
‘But it is only in the last-mentioned case [i.e. Wrotham Park] and in the trespass cases that damages have been awarded in accordance with either principle without proof of loss to the plaintiff. In all the other cases, the plaintiff having established his loss, the real question has not been whether substantial damages should be awarded at all, but whether they should be assessed in accordance with the user principle or by reference to the diminution in value of the property or right. In other words, those other cases are exceptions to the second, but not to the first, of the general rules stated above.’
He finished by saying: ‘It is possible that the English law of tort, more especially of the so-called ‘proprietary torts’, will in due course make a more deliberate move towards recovery based not on loss suffered by the plaintiff but on the unjust enrichment of the defendant: see Goff and Jones The Law of Restitution(3rd edn, 1986) pp 612-614. But I do not think that that process can begin in this case and I doubt whether it can begin at all at this level of decision.’
Nicholls LJ said: ‘If, on the one hand, the unauthorised, other-day market has caused and is causing no loss, either of stallage or of tolls or under any of the other heads of loss which may affect the owner of a market right, there is no cause of action. There is, in that event, no question of applying the user principle. If, on the other hand, the owner of the market right does sustain loss under one or more of those heads, damages must surely be commensurate with the quantum of the loss so sustained. The damages will correspond, so far as the court can fairly assess them, to the amount of the loss flowing to the owner of the market right from the respects in which he has in fact been damnified in his enjoyment of that right by the holding of the unauthorised, other-day market. Again, there would be no place for awarding, by application of the user principle, damages in a sum greater than the amount of that loss.’ and
‘It is an established principle concerning the assessment of damages that a person who has wrongfully used another’s property without causing the latter any pecuniary loss may still be liable to that other for more than nominal damages. In general, he is liable to pay, as damages, a reasonable sum for the wrongful use he has made of the other’s property. The law has reached this conclusion by giving to the concept of loss or damage in such a case a wider meaning than merely financial loss calculated by comparing the property owner’s financial position after the wrongdoing with what it would have been had the wrongdoing never occurred. Furthermore, in such a case it is no answer for the wrongdoer to show that the property owner would probably not have used the property himself had the wrongdoer not done so.
Nourse LJ, Nicholls LJ
[1988] 3 All ER 394, [1988] 1 WLR 1406
England and Wales
ExplainedWrotham Park Estate Ltd v Parkside Homes Ltd ChD 1974
55 houses had been built by the defendant, knowingly in breach of a restrictive covenant, imposed for the benefit of an estate, and in the face of objections by the claimant.
Held: The restrictive covenant not to develop other than in . .
CitedThe Owners of the Steamship Mediana v The Owners, Master and Crew of the Lightship Comet HL 1900
A lightship was damaged by negligence. The plaintiff harbour board kept a ship ready for emergencies, and consequently the damaged ship was replaced with the spare while she was being repaired. The question was whether the claimant could recover . .

Cited by:
CitedWrotham Park Settled Estates v Hertsmere Borough Council CA 12-Apr-1993
Land had been purchased under compulsory purchase powers. It had been subject to restrictive covenants in favour of neighbouring land which would have prevented the development now implemented. The question was how the compensation should be . .
CitedDevenish Nutrition Ltd v Sanofi-Aventis Sa (France) and others CA 14-Oct-2008
The defendant had been involved in price fixing arrangements, and the claimant sought damages for breach of its proprietary rights. The claimant appealed refusal of an award an account of profits for what was akin to a breach of statutory duty.
CitedDevenish Nutrition Ltd and others v Sanofi-Aventis SA (France) and others ChD 19-Oct-2007
The claimant sought damages for the losses it had suffered as a result of price fixing by the defendant companies in the vitamin market. The European Commission had already fined the defendant for its involvement.
Held: In an action for breach . .
AppliedForsyth-Grant v Allen and Another CA 8-Apr-2008
Claimant’s appeal against judgment in action for trespass and nuisance, arising out of the construction by the defendants of a pair of semi-detached houses on land adjoining the Hotel Picardie at Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, which was owned by the . .
CitedUniversal Thermosensors Ltd v Hibben and Others ChD 8-Jul-1992
After complex litigation, the remaining issues were a claim for damages by the claimant in respect of the defendant’s misuse of confidential information and a counterclaim by the defendants for loss falling within the claimant’s cross-undertaking in . .
CitedPeacock and Another v Custins and Another CA 14-Nov-2000
The conveyance of a field constituting the dominant land to the claimants was expressed to be subject to the benefit of a right of way over land owned by the defendants, enabling the claimants to reach the dominant land ‘at all times and for all . .
Cited32Red Plc v WHG (International) Ltd and Others ChD 12-Apr-2013
The court had found trade mark infringement by the defendant and now considered the quantification of damages. . .
CitedMorris-Garner and Another v One Step (Support) Ltd SC 18-Apr-2018
The Court was asked in what circumstances can damages for breach of contract be assessed by reference to the sum that the claimant could hypothetically have received in return for releasing the defendant from the obligation which he failed to . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 17 July 2021; Ref: scu.186379