Re Polemis

Re Polemis

In Re an Arbitration between Polemis and Furness, Withy & Co., Ltd., [1921] 3 K.B. 560 is a famous United Kingdom tort case on causation and remoteness. The Court of Appeal held that a defendant can be held liable for all consequences flowing from the wrongful conduct regardless of how unforeseeable.


The defendant's employees were loading cargo into a ship. Due to an employee's negligence, a plank fell into the hold of the ship. The plank caused a spark, which ignited some fuel stored in the hold, causing an explosion that sunk the ship.


The Court held that the defendant was liable. Although the fire itself may not have been foreseeable, it was held that the defendant would nevertheless be liable for all direct consequences of his actions.

Subsequent cases

This decision was disapproved of, and its test replaced, in the later decision of the Privy Council in Overseas Tankship (U.K.) Ltd. v. Morts Dock and Engineering Co. Ltd. [1961] 1 All E.R. 404 (P.C.).

The method of determining negligence is whether the defendant could have foreseen harm through his/her actions. In this case, it is clear that it was negligent to discharge cargo to knock down the planks for they might cause some damage to the workmen, cargo, or the ship. Once the defendant acts in negligence, he/she is must take responsibility for all damages that the negligent act incurs. The key difference is that foreseeability is related to whether it was foreseeable to incur harm through your action, not whether there was foreseeability in what type of harm you incur.

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