This maxim “damnum sine injuria” means that damage without injury is not actionable. There are many forms of harm of which the law takes no account. Mere loss in money or moneys worth does not itself constitute legal damage. Where there has been no infringement of any legal right, the mere fact of harm or loss will not render such act or omission actionable although the loss may be substantial or even irreparable. Damage so done and suffered is called “damnum sine injuria“, i.e., actual and substantial loss without infringement to any legal right and in such cases no action lies.
The mere fact that a man is injured by another’s act gives in itself no cause of action; if the act is deliberated, the party injured will have no claim in law even though the injury is intentional, so long as the other party is exercising a legal right. Hence the implication of the maxim is that loss or detriment is not a ground of action, unless it is the result of a species of wrong of which the law takes cognizance.
The rationale of the maxim has been very ably explained by a writer on torts in the following words: “The loss in such cases is not caused by wrong but by the exercise of his undoubted right, and in every complicated society the exercise, however, legitimate, by each member of his particular rights, or the discharge, however, legitimate, by each member of his particular duties, can hardly fall occasionally to cause conflict of interest which will be detrimental to some. Where an act is lawful or legally done, without negligence and in the exercise of a legal right, such damage as comes to another thereby is damage without injury”.
Salmond has attempted the following classification of the principal cases where damage is mere ‘damnum sine injuria’:
(a) the harm done may be caused by some person who is merely exercising his own rights, as in the case of loss inflicted on individual traders by competition in trade; or
(b) in the case where the defendant is exercising a right of property; or
(c) where the damage is done by man acting under necessity to prevent a greater evil; or
(d) the harm complained of may be too indefinite or too trivial, too difficult of proof for effective legal recognition. Thus, no action, it seems, will lie to recover damages for mere mental suffering unaccompanied by physical harm, though caused by the wilful act or the negligence of the defendant;
(e) so also the harm done may be of such a nature that the law considers it inexpedient to confer any right of pecuniary redress upon the individuals, injured, but provides, some other remedy, such as, criminal prosecution as exclusively appropriate. Such is the case, for example, with the harm which an individual suffers in common with the public at large by reason of the existence of a public nuisance.
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Decided Cases on Damnum Sine Injuria
(1) Acton v. Blundel: The defendant carrying on mining operations. in his own land drained away the percolating water from the land of the plaintiff and thus dried up the plaintiff’s well. Held, that no action lays; for the person who owns the surface may dig therein and apply all that is there found to his own purposes at his free will and if in the exercise of such right he intercepts or drains off the water collected from underground springs in the neighbour’s well, this inconvenience to his neighbour falls within the description of damnum abseque injuria which cannot become the ground of action.
(2) Dickson v. Reuter’s Telegraph Company: A sent a telegram of B for the shipment of certain goods. The telegraph company mistaking the registered address of C for that of B delivered the telegram to C. C acting on the telegram sent the goods to A, A refused to accept the goods stating that he had ordered the goods not from C, but from B. C sued the telegraph company for damages for the loss suffered by him. It was held that C had no cause of action against the company, for the company did not owe any duty of care to C, and no legal right of C, could, therefore, be said to have infringed.
(3) Esso-Petroleum Co. Ltd. v. South Port Corporation: The Esso-Company’s tanker ran aground, without negligence, in the Mirsey estuary, and was in danger of breaking up. Oil was discharged to lessen the dangers to life and property. The oil fouled the corporation’s foreshore, causing considerable inconvenience and expense. It was held that the Esso-Company incurred no liability in tort.
(4) Anand Singh v. Ram Chandra: The defendant built two pacca walls on his land on two sides of his house. The result of this action was that the water flowing through a lane belonging to the defendant and situated between the defendant’s and plaintiff’s houses damaged the walls of the plaintiff, the plaintiff had not acquired any right of easement. It was held that the defendant by building the walls on his land had not in any way violated the plaintiff’s right. This was held to be a case of damnum sine injuria and, therefore, no right of action accrued to the plaintiff.
(5) Town Area Committee v. Prabhu Dayal: The Allahabad High Court has held that the demolition of an unauthorised building is not injuria to the owner of the building. In such case he cannot get compensation even if he has suffered damages. In this case the plaintiff constructed 16 shops on the old foundations of a building without giving any notice to erect a building under Section 178 of the U.P. Municipalities Act and without obtaining necessary sanctions from the Municipal authorities. The defendants demolished the said constructions. The plaintiff used for compensation for the demolition as he had incurred heavy loss on this account.
(6) Vishnu Dutt Sharma v. Board of High School and Intermediate Education, U.P.: In this case a student suffered loss of one year because he was detained for shortage of attendance. But it was found that the college did not maintain a register for attendance. The college acted in violation of a regulation of U.P. Beard. It was held that a suit for compensation for loss of one year was not maintainable It was a case of damage without legal injury.