Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Actio Personalis Moritur Cum Persona Definition:

Latin: any right of action dies with the person.

Related Terms: Wrongful Death

According to Herbert Broom:

"It is to actions in form ex delicto that the maxim, actio personalis moritur cum persona, was peculiarly applicable, and, in a few cases, still applies....

[T]he general rule of the common law was, that if an injury were done either to the person or to the property of another for which unliquidated damages only could be recovered in satisfaction, the action died with the person to whom, or by whom, the wrong was done."

The effect of the maxim was described by Justice Brewer of the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1897 case, Stewart v Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company:

"A negligent act causing death is in itself a tort, and, were it not for the rule founded on the maxim actio personalis moritur cum persona, damages therefor could have been recovered in an action at common law."

Actio personalis moritur cum persona

Or this, from Justice Daniel of the sdame court, in the 1854 case of Henshaw v John Miller:

"The maxim of the common law is actio personalis moritur cum persona, and as this maxim is recognized both in England and in Virginia, the interpretation of it in the former country becomes pertinent to its exposition or application here. In England it has been expounded to exclude all torts when the action is in form ex delicto, for the recovery of damages.... That in case of injury to the person, whether by assault, battery, false imprisonment, slander, or otherwise, if either party who received or committed the injury die, no action can be supported either by or against the executors or other personal representatives."

The relevance of the Latin principle, which seemed unfair to begin with, has been substantially removed by statutes which allow the estate of a person involved in litigation for personal injuries (tort), to pursue and complete it in the name of the deceased.

The 1933 book Juris Proverbia not only provides an illustration of the Latin maxim (adjacent image) but adds, presumably tongue in cheek and long before the development of the wrongful death tort:

"Action personalis moritur cum persona - a personal right of action dies with the person.

"This maxim is a relic (of the common law) .... It might not have been a bad thing if it had died with the system which gave it birth. It survives, however, though almost eaten up by exceptions....

"If you have to advise a motorist as to running down an unemployed, unmarried, childless and orphan pedestrian, you can safely tell him that although it may give rise to an action for damages if the man is injured, if a suitable disposition of the body can be arranged, it will cost absolutely nothing to kill him outright."

REFERENCES:

  • Broom, Herbert, A Selection of Legal Maxims Classified and Illustrated, 10th Ed., (London: Sweet & Maxwell Limited, 1939), page 611.
  • Henshaw v. Miller, 58 US 212
  • Steele, E. A., Juris Proverbia (Halifax, Yorks: Halifax Law Classes, 1933), page 12
  • Stewart v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 168 US 445

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