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Letang vs. Cooper Case Summary – Trespass to Person

Case Summary: Letang vs. Cooper [1965] 1 QB 232


The issue, in this case, was whether it was possible to make a claim under trespass to the person if the action was negligent rather than intentional as until then the tort of trespass to the person had been applied to both types of situation.

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An action for trespass to the person can now only be brought for intentional torts, such as assault, battery, false imprisonment, trespass to land or chattels, etc. A claimant wishing to recover damages to his/her person or property that were caused by the defendant’s negligent action must prove all the elements of the tort of negligence.

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Facts of the case

In the summer of 1957, Ms.Letang was sunbathing outside on an area that was ordinarily used as a parking space for vehicles. While she was sunbathing, Mr. Cooper callously reversed his Jaguar motor car over her legs, causing her injury. 

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Ms. Letang did not immediately file a claim against Mr. Cooper’s negligence but rather chose to do so four years later, by 1961. However, she could not file a claim for negligence alone since it had a limitation period of three years (as per the Limitation Act 1939 2 & 3 Geo.6 c.21 as amended by section 2 of the Law Reform (Limitation of Actions, etc.) Act, 1954) and therefore she resorted to making a claim under trespass to the person as well. 


The Court of Appeal, consisting of Lord Denning MR, Diplock LJ, and Danckwerts LJ, held unanimously that since Mr. Cooper’s actions were negligent rather than intentional, the statute of limitations barring claims actions for damage caused by negligence applied but, in this instance, Ms.Letang could not recover her damages because her claim was late under negligence. Therefore, the appeal was allowed and an amount of £575 was made out to the Appellant (Mr. Cooper).

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Significance of this judgment

The Court of Appeal adopted the approach from Kruber v Grzesiak ([1963] VR 621) when deciding the effect of a time-barred claim. In terms of the law, the judgment of the court meant that a distinction was established between the torts of negligence and the trespass to the person based on intent. In effect, this meant that the law on trespass to the person has been narrowed.

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