The plaintiffs were steel dressers who, in the course of their employment, had inhaled quantities of noxious dust which had caused them to suffer from pneumoconiosis. They issued proceedings on 1 October 1956 but were unable to show any breach of duty by their employers which contributed to their condition after 1 October 1950. The defendants pleaded that the claims were barred by the six year limitation period under section 2 of the 1939 Act.
Held: Lord Reid made it clear that he would have wished to hold ‘that a cause of action ought not to be held to accrue until either the injured person has discovered the injury or it would be possible for him to discover it if he took such steps as were reasonable in the circumstances’. But the House unanimously held that the 1939 Act and established authority precluded it from so holding. Where a defendant sought to rely upon some damage as setting the limitation clock running, the damage referred to must be ‘real’ as distinct from minimal. The common law ought never to produce a wholly unreasonable result.
Lord Pearce said: ‘It is for a judge or jury to decide whether a man has suffered any actionable harm and in borderline cases it is a question of degree.
It is a question of fact in each case whether a man has suffered material damage by any physical changes in his body. Evidence that those changes are not felt by him and may never be felt tells in favour of the damage coming within the principle of de minimis non curat lex. On the other hand evidence that in unusual exertion or at the onslaught of disease he may suffer from his hidden impairment tells in favour of the damage being substantial.’ and ‘The cause of action accrued when it reached a stage, whether known or unknown, at which a judge could properly give damages for the harm that had been done.’
Lord Reid: ‘If this were a matter governed by the common law I would hold that a cause of action ought not to be held to accrue until either the injured person has discovered the injury or it would be possible for him to discover it if he took such steps as were reasonable in the circumstances. The common law ought never to produce a wholly unreasonable result . . But the present question depends on statute, the Limitation Act, 1939, and section 26 of that Act appears to me to make it impossible to reach the result which I have indicated.’
Lord Reid, Lord Evershed MR, Lord Pearce
 AC 758,  1 All ER 341
Limitation Act 1939 2
England and Wales
Appeal from – Cartledge v E Jopling and Sons Ltd CA 1962
The court gave guidance on when an injury passes from being de minimis to being sufficiently significant to found a cause of action: ‘there is from the beginning some injury occurring from day to day, as each of the minute particles which enter the . .
Cited – Hatton v Messrs Chafes (A Firm) CA 13-Mar-2003
The defendant firm appealed against a refusal to strike out the claimant’s claim for professional negligence, asserting that the judge should have considered the limitation issue in the light of Khan v Falvey.
Held: By the time that the . .
Cited – Lagden v O’Connor HL 4-Dec-2003
The parties had been involved in a road traffic accident. The defendant drove into the claimant’s parked car. The claimant was unable to afford to hire a car pending repairs being completed, and arranged to hire a car on credit. He now sought . .
Cited – McDonnell v Congregation of Christian Brothers Trustees (Formerly Irish Christian Brothers) and others HL 4-Dec-2003
In 2000, the claimant sought damages for sexual abuse from before 1951. The issue was as to whether the limitation law which applied was that as at the date of the incidents, or that which applied as at the date when he would be deemed uner the . .
Cited – The Law Society v Sephton and Co and others CA 13-Dec-2004
The Society appealed dismissal for limitation of its claim against the defendant firm of accountants arising from alleged fraud in approval of a solicitor’s accounts.
Held: The liability did not arise until the Society decided to make . .
Cited – Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd and Another CA 26-Jan-2006
Each claimant sought damages after being exposed to asbestos dust. The defendants resisted saying that the injury alleged, the development of pleural plaques, was yet insufficient as damage to found a claim.
Held: (Smith LJ dissenting) The . .
Cited – Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council v Municipal Mutual Insurance Ltd CA 6-Feb-2006
The deceased had come into contact with asbestos when working on building sites for more than one contractor. The claimant here sought contribution from the defendants for the damages it had paid to his estate. The issue was as to liability on . .
Cited – Haward and others v Fawcetts HL 1-Mar-2006
The claimant sought damages from his accountants, claiming negligence. The accountants pleaded limitation. They had advised him in connection with an investment in a company which investment went wrong.
Held: It was argued that the limitation . .
Cited – A v Hoare; H v Suffolk County Council, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs intervening; X and Y v London Borough of Wandsworth CA 12-Apr-2006
Each claimant sought damages for a criminal assault for which the defendant was said to be responsible. Each claim was to be out of the six year limitation period. In the first claim, the proposed defendant had since won a substantial sum from the . .
Mentioned – Law Society v Sephton and Co (a Firm) and Others HL 10-May-2006
A firm of solicitors had a member involved in a substantial fraud. The defendant firm of accountants certified the firm’s accounts. There were later many calls upon the compensation fund operated by the claimants, who sought recovery in turn from . .
Cited – Horton v Sadler and Another HL 14-Jun-2006
The claimant had been injured in a road traffic accident for which the defendant was responsible in negligence. The defendant was not insured, and so a claim was to be made against the MIB. The plaintiff issued proceedings just before the expiry of . .
Cited – Johnston v NEI International Combustion Ltd; Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd; similar HL 17-Oct-2007
The claimant sought damages for the development of neural plaques, having been exposed to asbestos while working for the defendant. The presence of such plaques were symptomless, and would not themselves cause other asbestos related disease, but . .
Cited – Axa General Insurance Ltd and Others v Lord Advocate and Others SCS 8-Jan-2010
The claimant sought to challenge the validity of the 2009 Act by judicial review. The Act would make their insured and themselves liable to very substantial unanticipated claims for damages for pleural plaques which would not previousl or otherwise . .
Cited – Dryden and Others v Johnson Matthey Plc SC 21-Mar-2018
Sensitisation to salt can be personal injury
The claimants, had developed platinum salt sensitisation due to the defendant employer’s breach of health and safety regulations and common law duty, claimed a cause of action for personal injury. Platinum salt sensitisation is, in itself, an . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.
Limitation, Personal Injury
Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.179759