Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd [1994]

Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd [1994]

Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd [1994] UKHL 5 is a landmark decision in English law, particularly in the fields of tort law and contract law. The case involved the liability of underwriting agents at Lloyd's of London to investors for losses incurred due to hurricanes in the United States.

The key legal issue in the case was whether underwriting agents could be held liable not only in contract but also in tort to indirect investors who were members of sub-syndicates. The traditional view was that if there was a contractual relationship, the parties should seek redress under contract law, and tort law should not be involved. However, this case challenged this orthodoxy by allowing concurrent claims in both tort and contract.

Lord Goff's judgment is significant in that it supports the idea that the assumption of responsibility, a key concept in the law of tort, can arise not only in cases where services are rendered gratuitously but also where they are rendered under a contract. This expanded the scope of tort liability beyond the traditional boundaries and allowed for claims in tort even when there was an existing contractual relationship.

Lord Goff's reasoning suggests that the law of tort is the general law, and parties can contract out of it if they wish. However, the assumption of responsibility, a concept established in the case of Hedley Byrne v Heller [1964], was considered broad enough to cover both contractual and non-contractual relationships. This departure from the strict separation of tort and contract was controversial, as it went against the prevailing legal orthodoxy.

In summary, Henderson v Merrett Syndicates Ltd marked a departure from the traditional view that tort and contract claims are mutually exclusive. It allowed for concurrent claims in both tort and contract, expanding the scope of liability and recognising that the assumption of responsibility could give rise to tortious duties even within contractual relationships.
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