In Re Arbitration Between Polemis and Furness Case Summary 1921

In Re Arbitration Between Polemis and Furness Case Summary 1921

In Re Arbitration Between Polemis and Furness Case discussed remoteness of damages. The extent of liability where the injuries resultant from tortious negligence is entirely unforeseeable.


  • Polemis (ship owner; plaintiff-respondent herein) who chartered a ship to Furness (ship unloader; defendant-appellant herein.
  • The accused’s employees were loading cargo into the hold when they inadvertently dropped a large wooden board.
  • When the wood fell, it collided with something else, sparking and igniting the surrounding petrol gas, eventually destroying the ship significantly.
  •  Initially, it was found that the reasonable unpredictability of the outcome meant the defendant was not responsible for the cost of the ship.

Contention & Issue:

Can a defendant be held tortiously liable for the outcome of events entirely caused by actions, but which could not have been foreseen by either the?

Ratio & Decision:

The Court of Appeals followed a strict liability approach to the cause and assessment of liability, and as a result, found that the defendant was responsible for all consequences resulting from his negligence.

The fact that the extent of these results was not subjectively assessed nor objectively foreseen was considered irrelevant to this decision.

NOTE: This case law was overruled in the case of Overseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd, however, it has never been officially overturned in English law and theoretically remains ‘good case law’, despite its lack of application.

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