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If any harm or damage is caused due to the defendant’s wrongful acts then the defendant will be liable for tortious liability. For example, if there is a bomb in the pocket of a cyclist and he negligently hits a person and due to that accident, the bomb explodes. A lot of people were injured, and then the question will be who will be responsible for the loss incurred. The principle of remoteness applies to such cases. The facts of the case will decide whether the damage was remote or not.


The defendant will not be liable if the damage is too remote and if the acts of the defendant are connected then they are proximate and will not remote; the defendant will be liable for the damage caused. In Haynes v. Harwood[1], The defendant’s servants left the horse negligently in a crowded place. A child started throwing stones at the horse which made him bolt. To rescue a woman and children on road, a policeman was injured. One of the defense pleaded that there was an intervention of another person’s activity between the defendant’s act and its consequences. The child’s act was considered proximate and there was negligence found on the part of the servants of the defendant. It was held in the Court that the defendant will be liable for their negligent act.

In another case, Scott vs. Shepherd[2], A threw a lighted squib bulb on the crowd and it fell upon G, to prevent harm to himself, he further threw it into the crowd and it fell upon Y. In the same way, he further threw and it fell upon B which results in the loss of one eye of B. As a result of this, A was held liable for B because of his wrongful act, and B has to suffer.


When the damage is not due to the direct consequences of the wrongful acts of the defendant and is caused due to the plaintiff’s own negligent act. When the damage is due to the independent party and is not due to the natural consequences of the act but is too remote.  Then the maxim ‘Novus actus inter remiens’ will apply which means the intervention of human activity between the defendant’s acts and their consequences.


A person whose direct act causes damage is held responsible in law. The question arises that how to judge whether the damage was due to the defendant’s direct act or not. Before 1850, two theories were laid down by the Courts for determination. According to one theory, if the damage due to the act is foreseeable by a reasonable-minded person then the consequences are not remote. According to another theory, the damage caused due to all the direct acts of the defendant, even a reasonable man can foresee them or not. After 1850, the above two tests for the remoteness of damages were laid down by the court.

  1. Test of foreseeability
  2. Test of directness


According to this test, if a reasonable person can foresee the consequences of the act which are considered wrongful, then the damages will not be considered too remote. And on the other hand, if a man of reasonable mind cannot be foreseen the effects of that act, then it will not be considered too remote. In the case Greenland vs. Chaplin[3], it was concluded that the defendant’s liability will arise only if the reasonable man can foresee the after-effects of the act.


In the case of Re Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd.[4], the test of foreseeability was rejected by the Court and the test of directness was considered more suitable than the test of foreseeability. According to it, for all the acts, whether it is remote or not, the defendant will be liable even if they cannot be foreseen by a reasonable man. This test was first applied in the case of Smith vs. London & South Western Railway Company[5], the servants of London  Railway Company after cutting grass and hedges, left it near the railway line negligently. A spark from the railway engine set the heap of grass to fire. Due to the wind, the cottage of the plaintiff also burnt out due to that fire. The Court held that the defendant will be liable as their servant act negligently. It was accepted with the approval of the case Re Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co.[6] , A cargo is to be carried by the defendants and it also includes some quantity of benzene and petrol packed in tin vessels. There was some problem in tins that’s why they start leaking.  Due to the leakage, the content was collected in the ship’s hold. A plank fall into the hold of the ship negligently by the defendants resulting in this, the ship being burnt out and destroyed completely.  The owner of the ship was liable and held entitled to recover the loss caused due to the destruction of the ship because of the direst consequences of the wrongful act on the part of the defendant although this cannot be foreseen by a reasonable man. The test of directness is considered incorrect and irrelevant by the Privy Council in the case of  Wagon Mound and it was concluded that the test of foreseeability is a better test than a test of directness.


The Wagon Mound, an oil vessel, was chartered by the appellants, Overseas Tankship Ltd. for taking fuel at Sydney port.  Around 600 feet distance, the respondents, Morts Dock Company owned a wharf where the repairs of the ship included some welding operations. Due to the negligence of the servants of the appellant, a significant quantity of the oil was spilt over the water. After about 60 hours, the metal which was moulted from the respondent’s wharf ignited the oil which spread over the water and causes great damage to the wharf. The Supreme Court has applied the test of reasonable foresight and held that Overseas Tankship Ltd. is liable. And mentions that the unforseeability was no defence. It was held by the Privy Council that the test of directness is not a good test to determine whether the act is remote or not and changed the decision of the Supreme Court. And it was concluded that as the reasonable man cannot foresee such damage, and hence the appellants’ will not be held liable for the damage caused due to their negligent act. Court held that Wagon Mound is the governing authority, not the Re Polemis.


Decide that whether compensation should be given or not to the appellant will be decided by using the doctrine of remoteness.  Only the consequences of any wrongful act which falls in the proximate will be held liable. And if the act is too remote, then the defendants’ will not liable. There are two tests which are used to conclude whether the damage will be remote or proximate and they are: – the test of foreseeability and the test of directness. Nowadays, the test of foreseeability is considered more relevant than the test of directness by courts.

Author(s) Name: Garima Kamboj (Institute of Legal Studies, Panjab University,



[1] Haynes v. Harwood, (1935) 1 K.B. 146

[2] Scott v. Shepherd, [1773] 2 WM B1 892

[3] Greenland v. Chaplin (1850) 5 Ex. 243

[4] Re Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd., (1921) 3 K.B. 560

[5] Smith v. London & South Western Railway Company (1870) L.R. 6 C.P. 14

[6] Re Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co. Ltd., (1921) 3 K.B. 560