Kuruppu v. Tmngani Chtnesekere.
1946Present: Keuneman S.P.J. and Jayetileke J.KURUPPU, Appellant, and IRANGANI GUNESEKERE,Respondent.
319—D. C. Colombo, 19,919.
Breach of promise, of marriage—Exemplary damages—Certain circumstanceswhich do not justify imposition of exemplary damages.
In an action for breach of promise of marriage the following are items ofevidence to be taken into account in determining whether exemplary-damages should be awarded : (1) the fact that it was the plaintiff whoinduced the defendant to promise to marry her, (2) the fact that bothparties knew before the engagement that there was a serious obstacle intheir way, emd that the breach was mainly due to this anticipated cause.
The fact that after the action was instituted the defendant at firstdenied and later admitted that there was a promise in writing is not agood ground for awarding exemplary damages.
PPEAL from a judgment and decree of the District Court ofColombo.
The plaintiff sued the defendant for damages for breach of promise ofmarriage. In awarding Rs. 3,500 as damages the trial judge thoughtthat “ the conduct of the defendant does call for some degree ofexemplary damages ”.
The evidence in the case disclosed that the engagement was mainlydue to the initiative of the plaintiff and that it was broken off becausethe consent of the defendant’s mother could not be obtained. Theopposition of the defendant’s mother was well known to both partiesfrom the beginning. The defendant was a fairly young man entirelydependent on his mother. In the circumstances it was contended inappeal that the imposition of exemplary damages was not justified.
H. V. Perera, K.C. (with him E. B. Wikramanayake), for the defendant,appellant.—The trial judge held that this case was one which called forexemplary damages. This finding cannot be justified. The plaintiffwas older than the defendant and the engagement was mainly due to theinitiative of the plaintiff. The engagement was short lived, namely,5 months. Not much publicity was given to the engagement. Finally,the engagement was broken off because' the consent of the defendant’smother was not obtained. The opposition of the defendant’s motherwas well known to the plaintiff right from the start.
Further the defendant is entirely dependent on his mother. He ownsa quarter share of lands valued at Rs. 28,000 subject to a life interest inthe mother and subject to a fidei commissum in favour of his children.The defendant’s interests cannot be worth much. The defendant nowdraws a salary of Rs. 177*50 a month.
Under the circumstances this was a case which only called for nominaldamages. See Maslin v. de Silva x.
N. Nadarajah, K.C. (with him H. W. Jayewardene), for the plaintiff,respondent.—It was nothing wrong if the plaintiff set about to secure
1 (1942) 23 C. L. W. 107.
11. H. A 66092-571 (11/46)
KKTJNT3MAN S.P.J.—Kuruppu «. Irangani Gfunesetcere.
the engagement. There is no doubt that the parties were very much inlove with each other. The defendant entered the engagement fullyaware of his mother’s opposition.
The plaintiff is past thirty and has lost prospects of contracting anyother marriage now. She has lost a good job for the sake of the anti-cipated marriage and has spent over Rs. 1,000 in getting hear trousseauready.
The conduct of the defendant has been dishonourable firstly in tryingto induce the plaintiff to break off the engagement; secondly, in takingrefuge under his mother’s opposition and finally in denying in his answerthat he promised to marry the plaintiff in writing.
Apart from actual expenses incurred and compensation for loss ofmarriage special damages may be awarded to punish the defendant. SeeGunasekera v. Amerasingke *, Quirk v. Executor of Thomas 2. Exemplary,punitive or vindictive damages may be given. See Van Zyl Vol. II.,3rd Edition 588 ; Nathan : Law of Damages p. 86 and p. 178 ; 10 Hals-bury 110 (Hailsham Edition).
The defendant is an Honours Graduate and the property of which heowns a quarter share must be worth much more than Rs. 28,000 now.
The damages assessed by a judge or jury should not ordinarilybe interfered with. See Flint v. Lovell3.
Cur. adv. wit.
November 1, 1946. KetotemAn S.P.J.—
The plaintiff brought this action for breach of promise of marriage.The District Judge entered decree for the plaintiff for Rs. 3,500 and costs.In awarding this sum the District Judge thought that “ the conduct ofthe defendant does call for some degree of exemplary damages ”.
The only question in this appeal relates to the question of damages.
The evidence in the case discloses that the plaintiff, who was someyears older than the defendant, first fell in love with the defendant, andthat she tried to interest the defendant in herself and to induce him topropose to her. In fact in one of her letters she says—“ I have simplyforced you to love me, and you are already getting tired of me ” (see D 12of September 30, 1942). There is good reason to think that the engage-ment was mainly due to thd” initiative of the plaintiff, and the DistrictJudge has in substance so held. He has however pointed out that theplaintiff did this in a proper manner and that no blame can be attributedto her. He has accordingly held that this fact is a ground neither ofmitigation nor of aggravation,
In my opinion this finding is not quite correct. The fact that it wasthe plaintiff who induced the defendant to promise to marry her is surelyan item of evidence to be taken into account in determining whetherexemplary damages should be awarded.
The plaintiff and the defendant became engaged to be married aboutthe middle of August, 1942, and from that date several letters passedbetween the two indicating that they were deeply in love with eachother. But from the beginning it was realized by both of them thatthere was a serious difficulty in their way, and that was the improbability1 (1910) 5 A. O. R. 123.3 (1916) L. R., 1 K. B. 516 at 527.
3 (1935) L. R., 1 K. B. 354 at 359 and 360.
KETUNEMAH S.P.J.— Kuruppu v. Irangcmi Ouneaekere.
of the defendant’s mother consenting to the marriage. There can beno question but that the parents of the plaintiff desired that consent,and that the plaintiff herself fully appreciated the difficulty even beforethe engagement commenced (see D 9).
Within a few days of the engagement (see defendant’s letter P 10 ofAugust 17, 1942) it was made quite clear that the prospect of getting theconsent of the defendant’s mother was negligible. The plaintiff repliedby D 9 of August 19, 1942, strongly urging the defendant not to tell, hismother for the time being, and in a later letter (D 10 of August 24, 1942)she suggested that his mother should not be informed till after the noticeof marriage had been given. The District Judge has held that it was thedefendant who first suggested this policy of silence, but no evidence hasbeen shown to me which supports that view, and the documents clearlyindicate that it was the idea of the plaintiff and that the defendant onlyreluctantly fell in with her suggestion. The policy of silence failed,because the defendant’s mother received information from interferingfriends and at first suspected and later about October, 1942, receivedconfirmation of her suspicions. As the defendant put it in P 14 ofOctober 22, 1942, “ I had no need to tell my mother, for she forestalledme by coming down on her son in a flood of tears. I said very little forI knew it was useless ”. The defendant at the time hoped that he wouldstill be able to win his mother’s approval, but the mother took energeticaction, even visiting the plaintiff’s parents with a view to ending theengagement. There can be little doubt that this was the rock on whichthe engagement foundered. At the time the defendant was a fairlyyoung man entirely dependent on his mother.
Prom then it was only a question of time for the engagement to bebroken off.
Now it is a matter to be taken into consideration that both parties knewbefore the engagement that there was a serious obstacle in their way,and that the breach was mainly due to this anticipated cause. Had thepolicy of silence not been adopted at the instance of the plaintiff, it seemsclear that the engagement would have had an earlier termination. Thisaspect of the matter has not really been appreciated by the DistrictJudge but I think it has a strong bearing on the question whether exemp-lary damages should be awarded in this case.
The engagement was in fact broken off by the defendant in January,1943, and the whole period of the engagement was four or five months.Very little publicity was given to the engagement. The defendant’smother was not informed of it and efforts were made to prevent her hearingof it. It is true that the plaintiff’s father and mother were informedand that the plaintiff informed some of her friends, but there is no evidenceto suggest that other possible suitors were likely to have heard of theengagement and been deterred.
There is one matter which is urged against the defendant. In his letterP 9 of January 6, 1943, the defendant wrote that he had grown into oneof the “ more disagreeable and unacceptable ” of the “ Sama Samajists ”and had entertained the view that he did not believe in an attachmentbetween a man and a woman for the rest of their lives. He however
KETTNEMAN 8.P.J.—Kvruppu v. Irangani Guneiekere.
hastened to add that in his case there was no other girl involved. Theplaintiff quite sensibly replied in D 17 that she knew several people whowere Sama Samajists and had noticed nothing queer about them. TheDistrict Judge thought that P 9 was written by the defendant to try andinduce the plaintiff herself to break off the engagement. There may besome substance in this, and the letter certainly was not written in a spiritof candour and sincerity. But I do not think that, in weighing all thecircumstances, we must count this a sufficient reason for giving exemplarydamages. Apart from this, there is no question that the defendant’sconduct has not been dishonourable and that he has not attempted totake advantage of the plaintiff’s affection for him.
After the action was instituted the defendant at first denied and lateradmitted that there was a promise in writing. I am not satisfied howeverthat this is a good ground for awarding exemplary damages. In all thecircumstances I do not think this is a case that calls for the imposition ofexemplary damages.
At the time the defendant broke off the engagement he was a studentworking for the Civil Service Examination. He was entirely dependenton his mother. He had property—a quarter share of certain landsgifted by his father, valued at about Rs. 28,000 in 1934, and probablyworth much more now ; but the gift was subject to a life interest infavour of the mother and also to a fidei commissum in favour of thechildren of the defendant.
The defendant did not succeed in getting a post in the Civil Serviceand is now employed as a schoolmaster, in receipt of emolumentsto the extent of Rs. 177 50 a month. The District Judge rightly heldthat the defendant “ though not destitute, is at present without means ”.TTis future earnings are problematic. I have also pointed out that thedefendant did no harm to the plaintiff and that the engagement was ofvery short duration and received only a very limited publicity. Theplaintiff on the other hand has said that at the request of the defendantshe refused an offer of employment as a Junior Matron in a Ratnapuraschool. No details have been given as to the salary or the terms ofemployment and it is difficult to assess the damages in this respect.Counsel for plaintiff also claimed that she should be awarded Rs. 1,000for clothes alleged to have been made for the wedding. The DistrictJudge has not allowed this item and there is an absence of detail and ofcorroboration in this respect, and further it is not clear why clothesshould have been ordered for the wedding when the date had not beenfixed. I do not think this last item can be entertained.
In all the circumstances I think the amount of Rs. 3,500 awarded bythe District Judge is too high and that exemplary damages are not calledfor. I think a fair estimate of the damages is Rs. 2,000, and I accordinglysubstitute that sum for the sum awarded by the District Judge.
The defendant-appellant iB entitled to half the costs of this appeal.The order for costs in favour of the plaintiff in the District Court willstand. The counter-objections of the plaintiff are dismissed.Jayetileke J.—I agree.
Appeal partly allowed.