Lumley v Gye [1853]

Lumley v Gye [1853] EWHC QB J73 is a landmark case in English tort law that addresses the concept of economic tort. The case, heard in 1853, establishes the principle that one can claim damages from a third party who interferes in the performance of a contract by inducing a party to breach their contractual obligations.

The facts of the case involve the singer Johanna Wagner, who had been engaged by Benjamin Lumley to perform exclusively at Her Majesty's Theatre for three months. Frederick Gye, the manager of Covent Garden Theatre, enticed Wagner to break her contract with Lumley by offering her a higher payment. Despite Lumley obtaining an injunction to prevent Wagner from singing at Covent Garden, Gye persuaded her to disregard the injunction. Lumley subsequently sued Gye for damages, seeking compensation for the income he had lost due to the breach of contract.

In delivering the judgment, Crompton J held that Lumley was entitled to claim damages from Gye. The judge acknowledged that, as a general rule, there is no action for procuring someone to break a contract, even with malicious intent and resulting in significant and immediate harm. However, Crompton J noted that there was a recognised exception for cases where a person wrongfully and maliciously interferes with the contractual relationship between parties.

The judgment emphasised that the law regarding enticing away servants, which was considered an exception to the general rule, likely originated from historical circumstances such as serfdom. Crompton J clarified that the remedy for enticing away servants was limited to cases where a strict master-servant relationship existed, while in other contractual situations, the remedy was against the party directly breaching the contract.

Wightman J and Erle J concurred with Crompton J's decision. The case established the legal principle that individuals who wrongfully and maliciously interfere with contractual relations, causing harm to another party, can be held responsible for their actions. This precedent has had a lasting impact on the development of economic tort law in England.
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