Madras Railway Co. V. Govinda Rau, (1898) 21 Mad 172 by Anshika Agrawal @Lexcliq

Facts of the case

The plaintiff, a tailor, with a view to make special profits during the car festival at a place called Karamadai, in the Coimbatore District, entrusted to the defendants, the Madras Railway Company, on the 29th February 1896, his sewing machine and a cloth bundle to be carried from Erode and to be delivered to him at Karamadai. The defendants were, however, not told why the articles were sent. Through the fault of the defendants’ servants, the articles were not carried to Karamadai until long after the date by which they should, in the usual course, have arrived at that station. Before they reached the place, the festival had come to an end. The plaintiff who had waited at Karamadai for a number of days, expecting the arrival of the articles, having returned to Erode, the articles were trasnsmitted back and were delivered to him there on the 26th March 1896.

The plaintiff sued for damages said to have been sustained by him in consequence of the delay in the delivery of the articles. The District Munsif gave him a decree of some amount, being the rail fare of the plaintiff and his assistant from Erode to Karamadai and back and their expenses for food and lodging while at Karamadai.

Legal issue raised

How far the railway company is liable to pay the damages to the plaintiff?

Judgment held

Benson, J.
The question for our decision is how far the Railway Company is liable for damages said to have been caused to the plaintiff by the Company’s failure to deliver certain goods to the plaintiff within a reasonable time after they were entrusted to the Company to be carried from Erode to Karamadai. It is admitted that the Railway Company had no notice that the goods were required to be delivered within a fixed time for any special reason. Apart from any special contract, the responsibility of a Railway Company for the loss, destruction or deterioration of goods is declared by Section 72 of the Railways Act (IX if 1890) to be that of a bailee as defined in Sections 151, 152 and 161 of the Indian Contract Act, and the last Sections enacts that “if, by the fault of the bailee, the goods are not returned, delivered or tendered at the proper time, he is responsible to the bailor for any loss, destruction or deterioration of the goods from that time.”

In the present case there was no loss or destruction of the goods, nor was there any change in the absolute conditions of the goods, but the word “deterioration” is wide enough to cover a falling off in the value of the goods due to their not having been delivered in time to enable the plaintiff to take advantage of the special market which would have been available during the festival at Karamadai if they had been delivered in due time. In other words, the plaintiff might have claimed as damages the difference between the ordinary value of the goods at Karamadai and the special value which they would have had if they had been delivered to him at the time contemplated so as to be available for the special market then existing at Karamadai (Wilson V. Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, 30. L.J.C.P. 232, and illustration q to Section 73 of the Indian Contract Act, which illustration appears to be based on the English case). The plaintiff, however did not allege or prove any such “deterioration”, though there was a vague claim and vague evidence as to “loss of profit” owing to delay in delivery. It was, however, distinctly held in the above case, and illustration q to Section 73 of the Contract Act distinctly shows that the plaintiff could not in such a case recover any damages for loss of profit. If “deterioration” in the sense above stated had been proved, the Railway Company would not have been protected by the special contract on the back of the forwarding note to the effect that the Company is not liable “for the loss of, or damage to, any goods whatever by reason of accidental or unavoidable delays in transit or otherwise,” since the contract does not exclude “deterioration” in the above sense, but only loss of, or damage to, the goods unless indeed the words “damage to the goods” can be held to include “deterioration” due to extrinsic causes. Even if they could be so held (and I think it would be a stain on the language to do so), there is still the objection that it is not shown that the contract was in a form approved by the Governor-General in Council as required by Section 72 of the Railways Act, and it may well be doubted whether sanction would have been given for so unreasonable a contract.

For all these reasons, the District Munsif was, I think, right in disallowing the plaintiff’s claim for loss of profits, but I think he was wrong in allowing the plaintiff the rail fare of himself and his assistant from Erode to Karamadai and back, and the cost of their food and lodging at Karamadai. Such damages could not have been in the contemplation of the parties when they made the contract, nor can they be said to have naturally arisen in the usual course of things from the breach, since the Railway Company had no notice of the reason why the things were being sent to Karamadai, or of the arrangements which the plaintiff was making to utilise them there. In other words, these damages are too remote and do not fall within the purview of Section 73 of the Contract Act. I agree, therefore, in holding that the decree must be set aside and the suit dismissed, but in all the circumstances without costs.

Final Decision

The damages claimed are too remote and did not arise naturally from the breach of contract.


By- Anshika Agrawal @lexcliq

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