Difference between damnum sine injuria and injuria sine damnum

Difference Between Damnum Sine Injuria and Injuria Sine Damnum

“Damnum sine injuria” and “injuria sine damnum” are the two most important maxims that are used to determine liability in tort.

In general, a tort consists of some act done by the defendant whereby he has, without just cause or excuse, caused some loss or damage to the plaintiff. Thus, the plaintiff can bring an action for damages against the defendant. One can say that a tort is a civil wrong against which a common law action can be brought and unliquidated damages may be claimed.

General conditions for liability in tort

It may be important to note that in order to constitute a liability in tort, the following general conditions must be satisfied:

1. There should be a wrongful act or omission on the part of the defendant.

2. Such an act or omission should cause some legal damage (injuria) to the plaintiff, i.e., it should result in the violation of a legal right vested in the plaintiff.

3. Lastly, there must be some legal remedy available in the form of a civil action for damages.

These conditions are essential to give rise to tortious liability on the part of the defendant (wrongdoer).

Damnum Sine Injuria and Injuria Sine Damnum

By reference to the second condition, to determine the liability under tort law, it is important to see whether any legal right of the plaintiff has been violated or not. If his legal right is violated, it does not matter whether he has sustained any actual loss or not. This view is given by the maxim “injuria sine damnum”. The term “injuria” means infringement of a legal right, “sine” means without, and “damnum” means substantial harm, loss, or damage. Thus, infringement of a legal right without causing any harm or loss to the plaintiff is actionable as a tort because it is the behaviour that is actionable, i.e., the violation of a right.

By virtue of another similar maxim “damnum sine injuria”, sometimes it may happen that the plaintiff may suffer an actual or substantial loss without any violation of his legal right and therefore, in such cases, no action lies in tort. This can generally happen when the exercise of a legal right by one person causes consequential harm to the other. In such cases, no action lies even though the damage is intentional. An example of this can be a loss inflicted on individual traders by competition in trade.

The reason behind this principle is that it shall not be possible to carry out the common affairs of life without undertaking various acts that more or less will be likely to cause loss or inconvenience to others. This is in view of a conflict of interest. Hence, every possible form of harm or loss is not recognized by the law.

Difference Between the two

The following table sets out the main points of difference between the two maxims:

Damnum Sine InjuriaInjuria Sine Damnum
Its literal meaning is “damage” without “violation”.It means “violation” without “damage”.
It refers to actual or substantial damage caused to the plaintiff without any infringement of his legal right.It refers to an infringement or violation of a legal right of the plaintiff without causing any harm, loss, or damage to him.
It is never actionable.It is always actionable.
It looks at moral or social wrongs without any remedy.It looks at legal wrongs where there is a remedy under the law.
In this case, the defendant causes harm or loss to the plaintiff by acting legally. To put it in another way, the exercise of a legal right by one person results in consequential harm to another.In this case, the defendant acts illegally and he infringes on the legal right of the plaintiff.

Relevant case laws on Damnum Sine Injuria

Town Area Committee v Prabhu Dayal (AIR 1975 All. 132)

The plaintiff constructed 16 shops on the old foundations of a building. In this regard, neither a notice of intention to erect a building was given under Section 178 of the U.P. Municipalities Act, 1916 nor necessary approval was obtained under Section 180 of the said Act.

Town Area Committee, the defendants, demolished the construction. The plaintiff initiated an action against the defendants to claim compensation for the demolition of the building.

The Court held that the defendants were not liable since there was no “injuria”. That is, no violation of a legal right could be proved. It was observed that if a person constructs a building illegally and without obtaining appropriate sanctions, the demolition of such construction by the municipal authorities shall not result in an infringement of a legal right (injuria) of the owner of the property.

Mogul Steamship Co. v McGregor Gow & Co. (1892) A.C. 25

A number of steamship companies who had been engaged in tea-carrying trade between China and Europe collaborated together and offered reduced freight as compared to the plaintiff’s company. It was done in order to monopolize the trade and attract customers.

This resulted in the plaintiff’s company going out of the trade. The plaintiff was a rival trader (rival ship owner) and his business suffered huge losses owing to the reduction of freight charges by the defendants.

As a result, the plaintiff brought an action for conspiracy and requested damages.

The Court opined that the group of steamship companies acted in furtherance of their legal right in order to induce customers to do business with them. If as a result of this, any other company (i.e., Mogul Steamship Co. in the given case) has suffered trade losses, there is no remedy in the law of torts since there has not been a violation of a legal right vested in the plaintiff’s company.

Relevant case laws on Injuria Sine Damnum

Ashby vs White (1703) 92 ER 126

In the case of Ashby vs White, the defendant, who was a returning officer at a voting booth in the parliamentary election, refused to allow the plaintiff to vote. Even though the plaintiff was a qualified voter, he was wrongfully prevented from exercising his right to cast a vote.

The candidate to whom the plaintiff wanted to vote got elected and thus, no loss was suffered by him.

Still, the plaintiff brought an action against the defendant and claimed damages. He contended that the defendant wrongfully prevented him from exercising his statutory right to vote at the election.

Lord Holt C.J. stated that there was an infringement of a legal right vested in the plaintiff. And the fact that no monetary damage was caused to the plaintiff does not make any difference. Because a person must have a legal remedy if there is an invasion of his legal rights.

Bhim Singh vs State of J & K (AIR 1986 SC 494)

In the case of Shri Bhim Singh vs State of Jammu & Kashmir, the petitioner, who was an M.L.A. of the J & K Assembly, was illegally arrested and detained by the police. Thus, he was deprived of his constitutional right to attend the Assembly session and his fundamental right to freedom and personal liberty. 

As a result, the Court awarded exemplary damages of Rs. 50,000 to the plaintiff since the violation of his legal right to attend the Assembly session was owing to a mischievous and malicious act. Hence, the petitioner was awarded relief.

Conclusion

“Injuria Sine Damnum” holds that there is a violation of a legal right without causing any damage or loss to the plaintiff. Therefore, it is the behaviour that is actionable as a tort. Legal wrongs always entail a remedy irrespective of whether a substantial loss is caused to the plaintiff or not.

This is contrary to the maxim “Damnum Sine Injuria” which holds that sometimes the plaintiff may suffer loss or damage without any infringement of his legal right. Hence, such cases are not actionable in tort.


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