Lord Wright / The Fall of Clock Tower

“The duty at common law to maintain, which includes a duty to repair a highway, was not based in negligence but in nuisance. It was an absolute duty to maintain, not merely a duty to take reasonable care to maintain, and the statutory duty which replaced it was also absolute.”

Diplock L.J., Griffiths v. Liverpool Corporation, [1967] 1 Q.B. 374.

In Yetkin v. Mahmood, [2011] Q.B. 827 where injury was caused to a highway user by shrubs, Court upheld the claim for damages. A similar approach was indicated in Municipal Corpn. of Delhi v. Sushila Devi, (1999) 4 SCC 317.

Hon’ble Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, The Director General (Road Development) National Highways Authority of India v. Aam Aadmi Lokmanch, [Civil Appeal No. 6932 of 2015].

Sushila Devi had referred to Municipal Corpn. of Delhi v. Subhagwanti, AIR 1966 SC 1750. Subhagwanti dealt with fall of the clock tower at Chandi Chowk. It was held, there is a special obligation on the owner of structures beside a highway. If the structures fall into disrepair so as to be of potential danger to the passers-by or to be a nuisance, the owner is liable to anyone using the highway who is injured by reason of the disrepair. The owner is legally responsible irrespective of whether damage is caused by a patent or a latent defect.

The quantum of compensation requires separate consideration in each case.Clock TowerIt is a hard matter of pounds, shillings and pence, subject to the element of reasonable future probabilities. The starting point is the amount of wages which the deceased was earning, the ascertainment of which to some extent may depend upon the regularity of his employment. Then there is an estimate of how much was required or expended for his own personal and living expenses. The balance… will generally be turned into a lump sum. That sum, however, has to be taxed down by having due regard to uncertainties, for instance, the widow might have again married and thus ceased to be dependent, and other like matters of speculation and doubt.”

Lord Robert Alderson Wright, Davis v. Powell Duffryn Associated Collieries Ltd., (1942) A.C. 601.Lord Wright

Lord Wright did not have Lord Atkin’s boldness, or Lord Denning’s iconoclasm, or Lord Reid’s dynamism. He was earnest and reflective in his approach to all legal matters. He liked to insist, law ‘must be regarded as a living organism’ and he shared the then contemporary American juristic disdain for mechanical jurisprudence.