Jennings V. Rundall (1799), 8 Term Rep 335 by Anshika Agrawal @Lexcliq

Brief of the case

The defendant was minor and hired a horse to be ridden for a short journey and took it on a much longer journey, with the result it was injured. It was held that the defendants was not liable because the action was founded upon a contract and the plaintiff could not turn what was in substance a claim in contract to one in tort.

Facts of the case

The defendant is a minor who hired a horse for riding purpose over a short journey. The defendant extended the journey which resulted in the injury to the horse. The defendant brought a suit for the compensation.

Legal issue raised

Whether an action in tort arising out of the contract is maintainable?

Judgment held

Lord Kenyon, Ch.J.– The law of England has very wisely protected infants against their liability in cases of contract; and the present case is a strong instance to shew the wisdom of that law. The defendant, a fad, wished to ride the plaintiff’s mare a short journey; the plaintiff let him the mare to hire; and in the course of the journey an accident happened, the mare being strained; and the question is, whether this action can be maintained? I am clearly of opinion that it cannot; it is founded on a contract. If it were in the power of a plaintiff to convert that which arises out; of a contract into a tort, there would be an end of that protection which the law affords to infants. Lord Mansfield, indeed, frequently said, that this protection was to be used as a shield, and not as a sword; therefore if an infant commit an assault, or utter slander, God forbid that he should not be answerable for it in a Court of Justice. But where an infant has made an improvident contract with a person who has been wicked enough to contract with him, such person cannot resort to a Court of Law to enforce such contract, Amd the words “wrongfully, injuriously, and malciously,” introduced into this declaration, cannot vary the case.

In the case of Manbi V. Scott (a), this distinction was taken, that if the action against an infant br grounded on a contract, the plaintiff shall not convert it into a tort; “If one deliver goods to an infant on a contract, knowing him to be an infant, the infant shall not be charged for them in trover and conversion; for by that means all infants in England would be ruined.” A very few years after the decision of that case, the case of Johnson V. Pye arose, according to one report of which Lord Ch.J.Keeling expressed great indignation at the attempt to charge an-infant in tort, for that which was the foundation of an action of assumpsit; he said The judgment will ‘stay for ever, else the whole foundation of the common law will be shaken; for this was but a slip; and he might have pleaded his minority here.”

Lawrence, J.– The true distinction is that mentioned by my brother Grose, and not that stated at the Bar, between negligence and an act done by the infant. It is argued, that if no act be done by the infant, he may plead his infancy; but that infancy is not a defense where an act has been done: if that were so, an infant would not be liable in many instances of trover, where the conversion consists merely in a non-delivery and yet in trover an infant is always liable. According to the same rule, if an action were brought against an infant for negligently keeping the plaintiff’s cattle, by which they died, infancy might be pleaded in bar; but if the declaration charged the defendant with having given the cattle bad food, by which they died, it could not. But this certainly is not the true distinction.

Le Blanc, J.– The plea of infancy is a good bar to this action, on the ground that the act done in this case is the foundation of an action of assumpsit. And the reason of the distinction taken in the case in Siderfin is, that the plaintiff shall not by changing the form of the action, vary the liability of the infant. Now if the plaintiff could not have maintained an action of assumpsit against the infant, neither can be maintained the action in its present form. On this short ground, therefore, think that the plea of infancy is a good defense in this action.

Grose, J.- I am of the same opinion judgment for the defendant.

Final Decision

It was held that defendant is not liable.


By-Anshika Agrawal

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