Wilkinson v Downton
Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 Q.B. 57, is a famous English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 tort law decision in which the Common Law
Common law
Common law is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action...

 first recognised the tort of intentional infliction of mental shock.


Thomas Wilkinson was the landlord of the Albion public house
Public house
A public house, informally known as a pub, is a drinking establishment fundamental to the culture of Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. There are approximately 53,500 public houses in the United Kingdom. This number has been declining every year, so that nearly half of the smaller...

 in Limehouse
Limehouse is a place in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. It is on the northern bank of the River Thames opposite Rotherhithe and between Ratcliff to the west and Millwall to the east....

. A regular customer of the public house named Downton decided to play a practical joke on Wilkinson's wife. When Mr. Wilkinson went to see the races in Harlow
Harlow is a new town and local government district in Essex, England. It is located in the west of the county and on the border with Hertfordshire, on the Stort Valley, The town is near the M11 motorway and forms part of the London commuter belt.The district has a current population of 78,889...

, he left his wife to manage the house. Mr. Downton approached Mrs. Wilkinson and told her, falsely, that her husband had been seriously injured in an accident. Mr. Downton told Mrs. Wilkinson that he had suffered two broken legs and that he was lying at The Elms in Leytonstone
Leytonstone is an area of east London and part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest. It is a high density suburban area, located seven miles north east of Charing Cross in the ceremonial county of Greater London and the historic county of Essex...

. He told her that she should go to him in a cab and bring two pillows to carry him home.

The effect of Mr. Downton's false statement to Mrs. Wilkinson was a violent shock to her nervous system, causing her to vomit and for her hair to turn white and other more serious and permanent physical consequences which at one time threatened her reason, and entailing weeks of suffering and incapacity to her as well as expense to her husband for medical expenses. These consequences were not in any way the result of a history of bad health or weakness of constitution; nor was there any evidence of predisposition to nervous shock or any other idiosyncrasy.

Mrs. Wilkinson sued on an action on the case
Trespass on the case
The Writs of Trespass and Trespass on the Case are the two catchall torts from English Common Law, the former involving trespass against person, the latter involving trespass against anything else which may be actionable...


Opinion of the Court

Mr Justice Wright held that Mrs. Wilkinson had a valid claim for the intentional infliction of mental shock. Mrs. Wilkinson was entitled to a small claim for 1s 10½d for the cost of railway fares of persons sent by the plaintiff to Leytonstone in obedience to the false statement. As to this 1s 10½d expended in railway fares on the faith of the defendant's statement, the statement was a misrepresentation intended to be acted on to the damage of the plaintiff.

Furthermore, Wright J observed that since there was no physical touching there could be no grounds for a claim in battery
Battery (tort)
At common law, battery is the tort of intentionally and voluntarily bringing about an unconsented harmful or offensive contact with a person or to something closely associated with them . Unlike assault, battery involves an actual contact...

, and as Mrs. Wilkinson did not apprehend any immediate physical violence, no claim would lie in common law assault
Assault (tort)
In common law, assault is the tort of acting intentionally, that is with either general or specific intent, causing the reasonable apprehension of an immediate harmful or offensive contact. Because assault requires intent, it is considered an intentional tort, as opposed to a tort of negligence...

. He gave three requirements for an action in mental shock. First, there must be conduct that is outrageous or extreme. Second, there must be actual or constructive intent to cause psychological harm. Third, the victim must suffer from actual harm resulting from the defendant's conduct.

Subsequent case law

In Wainwright v. Home Office
Wainwright v. Home Office
Wainwright and another v Home Office [2003] UKHL 53; [2003] 3 WLR 1137 is an English tort law case concerning the arguments for a tort of privacy, and the action for battery.-Facts:...

, a case concerning a young man with cerebral palsy who had been strip searched before visiting his brother in prison, Lord Hoffmann discussed the case, giving a useful summary and the context of the decision.

External links

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