Williams and Another v Natural Life Health Foods Ltd and Another: HL 30 Apr 1998

A company director was not personally reliable in negligence for bad advice given by him as director unless it could clearly be shown that he had willingly accepted such personal responsibility. A special relationship involving an assumption of personal liability must be established before a company director can become liable for negligent misstatement under the Hedley Byrne principles.
Lord Steyn said: ‘The touchstone of liability is not the state of mind of the defendant. An objective test means that the primary focus must be on things said and done by the defendant or on his behalf. Obviously the impact of what a defendant says or does must be judged in the light of the relevant contextual scene. Subject to this qualification the primary focus must be on exchanges (in which term I include statements and conduct) which cross the line between the defendant and the plaintiff.’ As to whether he was liable as a joint tortfeasor: ‘In any event, the argument is unsustainable. A moment’s reflection will show that, if the argument were to be accepted in the present case, it would expose directors, officers and employees of companies carrying on business as providers of services to a plethora of new tort claims. The fallacy in the argument is clear. In the present case liability of the company is dependent on a special relationship with the plaintiffs giving rise to an assumption of responsibility. M was a stranger to that particular relationship. He cannot therefore be liable as a joint tortfeasor with the company. If he is to be held liable to the plaintiffs, it could only be on the basis of a special relationship between himself and the plaintiffs. There was none. I would therefore reject this alternative argument.’

Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Steyn, Lord Hoffmann, Lord Clyde, Lord Hutton
Times 01-May-1998, Gazette 28-May-1998, [1998] UKHL 17, [1998] 1 WLR 830, [1998] BCC 428, (1998) 17 Tr LR 152, [1998] 1 BCLC 689, [1998] 2 All ER 577
House of Lords, Bailii
England and Wales
Appeal fromWilliams; Reid v Natural Life Health Foods Limited and Mistlin CA 5-Dec-1996
(Majority) A director of a one man company himself could himself be liable for negligent advice outside his duties as a director where his personal character known to be relied upon. In order to fix a director with personal liability, it must be . .
CitedHedley Byrne and Co Ltd v Heller and Partners Ltd HL 28-May-1963
Banker’s Liability for Negligent Reference
The appellants were advertising agents. They were liable themselves for advertising space taken for a client, and had sought a financial reference from the defendant bankers to the client. The reference was negligent, but the bankers denied any . .
At first instanceWilliams and Another v Natural Life Health Foods Ltd and Another QBD 18-Jan-1996
A company director can be liable for the negligent mis-statement of the company if he warrants his own personal skill. . .
CitedSalomon v A Salomon and Company Ltd HL 16-Nov-1896
A Company and its Directors are not same paersons
Mr Salomon had incorporated his long standing personal business of shoe manufacture into a limited company. He held nearly all the shares, and had received debentures on the transfer into the company of his former business. The business failed, and . .

Cited by:
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The Chagos Islands had been a British dependent territory since 1814. The British government repatriated the islanders in the 1960s, and the Ilois now sought damages for their wrongful displacement, misfeasance, deceit, negligence and to establish a . .
CitedNiru Battery Manufacturing Company, Bank Sepah Iran v Milestone Trading Limited CA 23-Oct-2003
The claimant had contracted to purchase lead from some of the defendants. There were delays in payment but when funds were made available they should have been repaid. An incorrect bill of lading was presented. The bill certified that the goods had . .
CitedCommissioners of Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc ComC 3-Feb-2004
The claimant had obtained orders against two companies who banked with the respondent. Asset freezing orders were served on the bank, but within a short time the customer used the bank’s Faxpay national service to transfer substantial sums outside . .
CitedCustoms and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc CA 22-Nov-2004
The claimant had obtained judgment against customers of the defendant, and then freezing orders for the accounts. The defendants inadvertently or negligently allowed sums to be transferred from the accounts. The claimants sought repayment by the . .
CitedPrecis (521) Plc v William M Mercer Ltd CA 15-Feb-2005
Purchasers of a company sought to claim in negligence against the respondent actuaries in respect of a valuation of the company’s pension funds.
Held: There was a paucity of authority as to when a duty of care was assumed. The words used and . .
CitedMCA Records Inc and Another v Charly Records Ltd and others (No 5) CA 5-Oct-2001
The court discussed the personal liability of a director for torts committed by his company: ‘i) a director will not be treated as liable with the company as a joint tortfeasor if he does no more than carry out his constitutional role in the . .
CitedHM Customs and Excise v Barclays Bank Plc HL 21-Jun-2006
The claimant had served an asset freezing order on the bank in respect of one of its customers. The bank paid out on a cheque inadvertently as to the order. The Commissioners claimed against the bank in negligence. The bank denied any duty of care. . .
CitedPatchett and Another v Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association Ltd CA 15-Jul-2009
The claimant suffered damages when the contractor he engaged to construct his swimming pool went into liquidation. Before employing him, he had consulted the defendant’s web-site which suggested that its members were checked for solvency on becoming . .
CitedJeremy D Stone Consultants Ltd and Another v National Westminster Bank Plc and Another ChD 11-Feb-2013
The claimants asserted an equitable claim against funds held by the defendant bank in the name of a company owned by another defendant who they said defrauded them through a Ponzi investment scheme.
Held: The claim failed. On the evidence, the . .
CitedBen Hashem v Ali Shayif and Another FD 22-Sep-2008
The court was asked to pierce the veil of incorporation of a company in the course of ancillary relief proceedings in a divorce. H had failed to co-operate with the court.
After a comprehensive review of all the authorities, Munby J said: ‘The . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Company, Negligence

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.158948