UK, small claims court question.

Is it permissible to split a large claim into several small claims, against multiple defendants, arguing a different cause of action in each?

Consider this hypothetical and entirely fictional case:

Adam inherits a valuable piece of art (e.g. a painting). Adam has no interest in art, and decides to sell.

Bill contracts to handle the sale. He promises to sell the painting for a minimum of £120,000, and to charge a commission of £10,000.

Charlie is a professional art restorer. Bill hands the painting to Charlie for cleaning. But Charlie makes a mistake, and damages the painting, reducing the value. It subsequently sells for £90,000.

Bill deducts £20,000 from the sale price, double the agreed commission, and sends Adam the balance of £70,000.

Adam is outraged. He had been expecting a payment of £110,000 but has ended up £40,000 down.

Adam consults Dave the lawyer. Dave advises that he might have to spend £50-60,000 to recover the loss, might not win, might not recover costs, etc.

So Adam considers a claim in the small claims court. The UK small claims limit is £10,000, but Adam has a plan. He will make three separate claims, asking for maximum damages in each. First, he will sue Charlie for damaging the painting. Second, he will sue Bill for damaging the painting. (vicarious liability) Third, he will sue Bill for overcharging on the fees.

Is Adam's plan legally permissible? Basically, is it allowed to

  1. sue two different people for the same negligence, and
  2. sue one person twice for two different things.

Can a big claim be split up into smaller claims like this?

Note - for clarity, I'm not interested in Adam's dispute. I don't need to know about overcharging and the law of contracts, or liability for damage in tort law. Just the point about splitting up the case. And the case I described is just an example. Make the answer as general as possible, not restricted to this particular case.

And, as a final reminder, the jurisdiction is England and Wales.

Not asking for legal advice, you are not my lawyer, etc.

1 Answer 1


You can only sue once on the same facts on the same defendant

The issue here is res judicata - once a case between 2 parties has been resolved, that matter can never be litigated again. So Adam cannot split his litigation against Bill.

Adam has suffered no damage from Charlie

If Adam now had an artwork of reduced value as a result of Charlie’s negligence he would. But he doesn’t have a damaged art work so Charlie has caused Adam no harm.

  • Thank you for your useful reply. Could you please make it even more useful by adding some extra information on the following questions. Q1) Could Adam argue that his two claims against Bill rely on different facts? In one case, he's suing on the fact that he was overcharged, in another he's suing on the fact of damage to the painting. Would that be allowed? (Comment too long, split in two parts)
    – Pete
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 13:27
  • 1
    Q2) 2) Maybe Charlie isn't liable in this particular case, but I'm asking about general principles, not specifics. Imagine any scenario where two people each contribute to negligence that costs Adam £30,000. Can Adam sue them separately? On the same facts, or slightly different facts in the two cases. And because of the small claims limit, the maximum combined compensation would be less than the injury.
    – Pete
    Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 13:28

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