Janvier v Sweeney [1919] 2 KB 316

False statements - Psychiatric harm - Remoteness

Facts

Janvier (J) was a maid servant. Sweeny (S) and another man (D) were private detectives who wished to see certain letters which they believed J had access to. S instructed D to induce J to show him the letters in return for remuneration. D used false statements and threats against J which caused J to fall seriously ill from a nervous shock. J raised an action against S and D for damages for the injury suffered as a result of the false statements. On the basis of Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57 the trial judge awarded J damages, both detectives being liable as D was acting in the scope of his employment by S. S and D appealed.

Issue

S and D claimed that the false words and threats spoken by D were not actionable, and the illness which followed the words was too remote a consequence from the words spoken.

Held

Wilkinson v. Downtonwas upheld, as the false words and threats calculated to cause, with knowledge that they are likely to cause, and actually causing physical injury to the person to whom they are uttered are actionable. Indeed, Duke L.J. found the present case to be more serious than Wilkinson v. Downton which ‘merely’ involved a practical joke, and in the present case the intention of the false statements was to terrify J for the purpose of unlawfully gaining information from her. The appeal was dismissed.