Dryden v Johnson Matthey: The Boundaries of Actionable Damage

Jarret J. Huang


In Dryden v Johnson Matthey, the claimants sought to recover in tort for becoming sensitised to platinum salts by the defendant’s negligence. The Supreme Court found, unanimously, that merely becoming sensitised, as opposed to developing an allergic reaction, sufficed as actionable damage. However, the court only provided two ‘indicative factors’ for when damage was ‘actionable’: whether there had been some impairment, and whether the effect of that impairment was ‘more than negligible’. This approach is unclear, in tension with other parts of the judgment, and produces undesirable broader consequences. It misses an opportunity for the Court to provide guidance on developments in tort like preventive damages, claimant‐specific loss, and the broader raison d’être of tort. A narrow and constrained adjustment to the law to permit recovery in negligence of pure economic loss for preventive damage could have achieved the same result without relying on somewhat convoluted mental gymnastics.

Published July 2019
Frequency Bi-Monthly
Volume 82
Issue 4
Print ISSN 0026-7961
Online ISSN 1468-2230