Law Report: No damages for wife's gratuitous work

Thursday Law Report: 27 May 1999 Hardwick v Hudson and another Court of Appeal (Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Colman) 18 May 1999
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IN A claim for damages for personal injury a plaintiff was not entitled to recover damages in respect of work done gratuitously by his wife to help him in the running of his business.

The Court of Appeal allowed in part an appeal by the plaintiff, Kenneth John Hardwick, and a cross-appeal by the defendants, against an award of damages for personal injury.

The plaintiff was awarded damages against the defendants in respect of personal injuries suffered as a result of a road traffic accident. A full recovery from his injuries was unlikely, and as a result of his accident his activity in his profession as a motor mechanic had effectively been brought to a halt.

At the time of his accident the plaintiff was running a garage business in equal partnership with a Mr Hannington. In relation to his business income losses the plaintiff claimed, inter alia, in respect of extra work done for the business by his wife to help him cover his managerial duties from the time of his accident until she replaced Mr Hannington as a full- time partner in the business. Before his accident, Mrs Hardwick had undertaken book-keeping duties for the business one or two days a week. After the accident she worked about 20 hours extra each week.

The judge refused to compensate the plaintiff for what he described as a claim for gratuitous cover made on behalf of his wife. He took the view that any loss that might have been sustained in that respect was a pure economic loss sustained by a third party and was not recoverable. The plaintiff appealed against, inter alia, that decision.

W.B. Phillips (Tracy Barlow Furniss & Co) for the plaintiff; Julian Matthews (Actons) for the defendants.

Lord Justice Brooke said that the judge had been correct to make no award in relation to Mrs Hardwick's contribution to the business. She would, of course, have been entitled to charge the business a realistic sum for her increased services over and above what it was already paying her. It had, however, been decided not to take that course.

The situation was quite different from one in which a tortfeasor was liable to pay for services rendered voluntarily by a family member or other voluntary carer in nursing or providing other essential personal services for his in-jured victim. The object of an award of damages was to put a claimant back, so far as money could do it, into the position in which he would have been if he had not suffered the injury, and he would not have had to receive those nursing or personal services if he had not been injured. An award might be made for that kind of personal help even if it extended to the claimant's place of work: for example, a blind man might need to pay for extra help if he was to be able to resume his career.

Mrs Hardwick's role in providing increased services to her husband's business fell into a different category. As the judge had recognised, the defendants owed no recognisable direct duty of care to her, as there was not the necessary proximity between them. The plaintiff could therefore only recover payment for her services if there was evidence of an implied or express contract by the business of which he was a partner (or by the plaintiff personally) to remunerate her for the work which she had done.

Of that there was no sign, and if there had been, the business profits from which the plaintiff had benefited would have had to be to that extent reduced and account taken of the extent to which her increased services had added value to the business.

The judge had been correct not to enter into an assessment in respect of which there was so little reliable evidence available. The assessment of damages for loss of income was, after all, in the nature of a jury award, and on the whole of the evidence the judge had been amply justified on making no addition to the award in respect of Mrs Hardwick's services. The appeal and cross-appeal were, however, allowed on other grounds.

Kate O'Hanlon