Watson v Fram Reinforced Concrete Co (Scotland) Ltd: HL 1960

A workman had been injured through the breaking of a defective part in the machine with which he was working. He brought an action of damages against his employers, and later convened as second defenders the manufacturers of the machine, who had supplied it to his employers, on averments that the accident had been caused by the fault of the manufacturers in that they failed to supply his employers with a machine which was safe for use by their servants. The machine had been supplied on 7 July 1955 and the accident had happened on 9 August 1956, but the manufacturers were not convened in the action until 25 March 1959.
Held: The three-year limitation period provided by section 6(1)(a) of the Law Reform (Limitation of Actions andc.) Act 1954 ran from the date when the workman suffered the injury and that, accordingly, the action against the manufacturers was not time-barred. ‘a cause of action accrues as soon as a wrongful act has caused personal injury beyond what can be regarded as negligible.’
Lord Reid said: ‘The ground of any action based on negligence is a concurrence of duty and damage and I cannot see how there can be that concurrence unless the duty still exists and is breached when the damage occurs.’ and ‘It appears to me that default in the sense of breach of duty must persist after the act or neglect until the damage is suffered. The ground of any action based on negligence is the concurrence of breach of duty and damage, and I cannot see how there can be that concurrence unless the duty still exists and is breached when the damage occurs. Suppose that the damage occurred a year or two years after the manufacture and sale of the article: then undoubtedly the injured person can sue. But how could he sue if the manufacturer could say that his default had ceased a year before the injured person ever came near the dangerous article? Whatever be the true view with regard to the act or neglect, I think that the appellant is entitled to say that the respondents’ ‘default giving rise to the action’ existed at the time when he suffered his injuries.’
Lord Keith of Avonholm said: ‘Now this is a Donoghue v Stevenson type of case, and such a case undoubtedly introduces specialities into the law of negligence. But, on any view, I see difficulty in saying that there was negligence at the date of supply. At that date on the pursuer’s pleadings there was no reason why the manufacturers should have known of the dangerous state of the strut. It can hardly be expected that they had a legal duty to take it to pieces and inspect it before sending it out. Undoubtedly there was an act of carelessness on the part of some workman when the pin was welded to the strut and the manufacturers would be vicariously responsible for that carelessness. But can it be said that at either date there was an act of negligence in the legal sense? The manufacturers owed a duty to anyone who should handle the machine to take reasonable steps to see that it was safe. They owed a duty not to injure, but until someone was injured there was no breach of duty. Only then could it be said that an act of negligence had been committed. That, I think, necessarily follows from the judgment of this House in Donoghue v Stevenson.’ and ‘Applying the ratio of these decisions there was, in my opinion, no act, neglect or default within the meaning of the statute affecting the pursuer until he was injured. A fortiori there was no act, neglect or default giving rise to his action before that date. It was then for the first time that there arose a breach of duty which made its impact on the pursuer. Time, in my opinion, commenced to run against the pursuer under the statute from that date.’
Lord Denning said: ‘I think the true principle is contained simply in this: ‘You must not injure your neighbour by your fault.’ It is the doing of damage to him which, in my opinion, is the breach of duty giving rise to the action. It is no doubt correct to say, as Lord MacMillan did say (at p.71), that the manufacturer ‘is under a duty to take care in the manufacture of these articles.’ That is a duty which he owes to all those who may have occasion to use the article: and it is a duty which is broken at the time when he is negligent in making the article. But it is not a breach of duty to any particular individual. And it is not that breach of duty which gives rise to the action. There is another duty also to be considered: and that is the duty which Lord Atkin put in this wise (at p.44): ‘You must not injure your neighbour’: which I would expand so as to say that there is a duty on every man not to injure his neighbour by his want of reasonable care. This is a duty which he owes, not to the world at large, but to his neighbour. It is broken only when his neighbour is injured and not before. Then, and then only, is there a breach of duty giving rise to an action.’ and . . ‘The words ‘act, neglect or default’ are perhaps a little tautologous: for ‘act’ in legal terminology often includes an omission as well as an act of commission: and ‘default’ certainly includes ‘neglect’. But tautologous as they may be, the words are apt to cover all breaches of legal duty, no matter whether it be by leaving undone those things which we ought to have done, or by doing those things which we ought not to have done.’


Lord Reid, Lord Keith of Avonholm, Lord Denning


1960 SC 92, 1960 SC (HL) 92


Law Reform (Limitation of Actions) Act 1954 6(1)(a)


CitedGrant v Australian Knitting Mills PC 21-Oct-1935
(Australia) The Board considered how a duty of care may be established: ‘All that is necessary as a step to establish a tort of actionable negligence is define the precise relationship from which the duty to take care is deduced. It is, however, . .
CitedDonoghue (or M’Alister) v Stevenson HL 26-May-1932
Decomposed Snail in Ginger Beer Bottle – Liability
The appellant drank from a bottle of ginger beer manufactured by the defendant. She suffered injury when she found a half decomposed snail in the liquid. The glass was opaque and the snail could not be seen. The drink had been bought for her by a . .

Cited by:

CitedHamilton v Fife Health Board 1993
A child was born but with injuries incurred while in utero alleged to have been caused by the negligence of the doctors attending the mother. The parents sued the health board for loss of the child’s society. The Board argued the action to be . .
CitedMcTear v Imperial Tobacco Ltd OHCS 31-May-2005
The pursuer sought damages after her husband’s death from lung cancer. She said that the defenders were negligent in having continued to sell him cigarettes knowing that they would cause this.
Held: The action failed. The plaintiff had not . .
CitedJohnston 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 . .
CitedDavid T Morrison and Co Ltd (T/A Gael Home Interiors) v ICL Plastics Ltd and Others SC 30-Jul-2014
The claimant sought damages after an explosion at the defender’s nearby premises damaged its shop. The defender said that the claim was out of time, and now appealed against a decision that time had not begun to run under the 1973 Act.
Held: . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Scotland, Negligence, Limitation

Updated: 13 May 2022; Ref: scu.226700