The Court of Appeal has made a number of important decisions in 2015 in the field of personal injury. As the year draws to a close, Ella Davis and I review some of the most important of them for the PI practitioner. They cover psychiatric damage, causation, quantum, the Athens Convention, jurisdiction, duties of care, vicarious liability and non-delegable duties...

Psychiatric Damage

Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne [2015] EWCA Civ 588 was a case of a claimant claiming damages for psychiatric injury consequent on seeing the condition of a loved one brought about by the negligence of a defendant. Of the four requirements for recovery, the decision focused on whether C’s illness had been “induced by a sudden shocking event.” Three issues were at the heart of the case: (1) whether C had suffered a recognised psychiatric illness, (2) Whether there had been “an event” and (3) how “shocking” the event must be. Edward Bishop QC provided a masterly analysis of this and other decisions in the 1 Chancery Lane October 2015 PI Briefing.

In brief, C’s wife became extremely unwell due to the negligence of D. C claimed he had suffered psychiatric injury as a result of the shock of seeing his wife’s sudden deterioration and appearance in hospital. The CA confirmed that courts should pay close attention to diagnostic criteria, that whether an event is ‘horrifying’ must be judged by objective standards and by reference to persons of ordinary susceptibility and that for an event in a hospital to be ‘shocking’ required something “wholly exceptional in some way so as to shock or horrify”. It also considered what was meant by an ‘event’ and ‘sudden’ finding that C had not been exposed to one event (“a seamless tale with an obvious beginning and an equally obvious end”) but a series of events with no “inexorable progression”. What had happened was not sudden, it had not caused an “assault upon the senses” but at each stage C had been conditioned for what he was about to perceive.

Causation

Reaney v University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust  [2015] EWCA Civ 119 was considered on this blog in a posting by Ella Davis “Quantity not Quality”. She rightly observes that the decision brings clarity to the law rather than any new departure. The CA considered causation in a case where a patient was a paraplegic requiring a care regime (due to non-negligent causes) but due to the negligence of D causing pressure sores, her care needs were increased. The question was whether D caused all her care needs or whether D was only liable for those needs less the needs which she would have had but for the negligence. The key issue was whether the pre-existing care needs were qualitatively different from those caused by the negligence or whether they were merely quantitatively different. The CA found they were only quantitatively different and therefore D was only liable for C’s increased care requirements. In future parties will doubtless pay careful attention to whether losses are qualitatively or quantitatively different as a result of negligence adding to a pre-existing condition.

Causation and the Burden of Proof

Graves v Brouwer [2015] EWCA Civ 595 concerned a house fire of unknown cause. Mr Brouwer set fire to a small bundle of papers in the passageway next to his house. Very shortly afterward the roof of his neighbour’s house caught fire. The experts agreed that the chances of an ember from the papers travelling to the eaves of the building and starting a fire were very low but, absent arson, were unable to come up with a more probable cause. The judge rejected arson as fanciful and found that, while the flying ember theory was scientifically improbable, the Claimant succeeded on causation.

The Court of Appeal overturned her decision saying she had failed to ask herself the ultimate question whether the flying ember theory was more likely or not to be true. The fact that no other possible causes were identified, in large part because there was no investigation at the time, did not make it more probable than not the fire was caused by a flying ember. As Roderick Abbot observed in his blog post “Sherlock Holmes in the Court of Appeal”, the exercise is not one of identifying the least unlikely cause. The Claimant had failed to discharge the burden of proof and that was all the judge was required to find.

Quantum

Billett v Ministry of Defence [2015] EWCA Civ 773 concerns how courts should assess damages for loss of future earning capacity in circumstances where the claimant suffers from a minor disability, is in steady employment and is earning at his full pre-accident rate. Should the court follow the traditional Smith v Manchester approach or should the court use the Ogden Tables, suitably adjusted?

C suffered from a minor Non Freezing Cold Injury (“NFCI”) which had a substantial impact on his day to day life in cold weather. The condition had less impact on his work as a lorry driver than it had on his leisure activities. The judge found that his loss of future earning capacity should be assessed by using Ogden Tables A and B, suitably adjusted, not by applying Smith v Manchester.

 The CA upheld his decision that C had a minor disability clarifying that where a court considers whether an injury substantially limits a claimant’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, the enquiry should be directed at what the claimant cannot do rather than what he can do. The CA overturned the judge’s decision to use the Ogden Tables: unadjusted they produced an unrealistic future loss; adjustment however was a matter of broad judgment which was no more scientific than the approach in Smith v Manchester. The judgment still leaves open the question when a disability becomes serious enough to engage the approach in Ogden Tables A and B and when and how those might be adjusted.  However as Andrew Spencer said in his blog on this case (Loss of future earnings and disability) the case is strong authority for retaining the Smith v Manchester approach in cases of minor disabilities with little effect on the claimant’s chosen career.

Athens Convention

In South West Strategic Health Authority v Bay Island Voyages [2015] EWCA Civ 708 the CA considered two issues relating to the Athens Convention (which governs personal injury to passengers at sea). The first was whether it extended to claims against carriers for contribution to liability of others and the second was the effect of the time bar prescribed by the convention.

Dr Feest was injured in a boating accident in the Bristol Channel. The carrier was Bay Island Voyages (“BIV”). Dr Feest’s first firm of solicitors failed to issue against BIV within the 2 year time limit under the Convention and so she sued her employer SWSHA on the basis the accident occurred in the course of her employment. SWSHA joined BIV who successfully applied to have the Part 20 proceedings struck out. The Court of Appeal found that the provisions of the convention were not directly applicable to SWSHA’s claim against BIV. It also found that the time bar in Article 16 did not extinguish the cause of action but only barred the remedy: this was critical for SWSHA’s contribution claim as, if the limitation provisions had extinguished the right to bring the claim, under the provisions of the Civil Liability (Contribution) Act 1978 SWSHA could only have brought a claim within 2 years of the accident. Ian Miller, who represented SWSHA with John Ross QC, blogged on the case: “Contribution, limitation and the Athens Convention.”

Jurisdiction

Brownlie v Four Seasons Holding Incorporated [2015] EWCA Civ 665 involved the application of the Canada Trust gloss and a novel question about where damage in a tort claim was sustained.

C bought an off package excursion in Egypt in which her husband was killed and she was injured. She booked the excursion by making a telephone call in England to the concierge at the hotel in Egypt. After the accident she brought proceedings in the High Court in contract and tort. She brought three tort claims (1) in respect of her own injuries; (2) as a dependant of her husband and (3) for the loss suffered by her husband’s estate.

On appeal the court of appeal, applying the Canada Trust gloss – which is well set out and explained in the judgment - found that there was a good arguable case as to the identity of the defendant and as to whether the contract was made in England. This was not novel point of law: it was merely a finding that it was likely that C had called the concierge with proposals and he had accepted them. Given a contract for an excursion is made at the place where the words of acceptance are received, the contract was made in England.

The novel point of law considered by the CA was the question of whether damage was sustained within the jurisdiction for the purposes of C’s claim in tort. This is the requirement of paragraph 3.1(9)(a) of the Practice Direction 6B (the tort gateway) for permission to serve out of the jurisdiction. The CA held the jurisdictional gateway should be interpreted consistently with Rome II and therefore the country in which the damage occurs should be the country where the injury was sustained regardless of the country in which the indirect consequences could occur. Thus the Claimant’s personal claim and the claim on behalf of the estate should be brought in Egypt. However, the dependency claim under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 was not properly described as a consequential loss it was an independent loss and so the Claimant had shown a good arguable case that English law should apply to this claim.

Matthew Chapman who appeared in this case with John Ross QC has blogged on it here.

Duties of care and mental impairment

In Dunnage v Randall [2015] EWCA Civ 673  the Defendant (“V”) was a paranoid schizophrenic who poured petrol over himself and ignited it, injuring his nephew the Claimant. V’s mental state was agreed to be grossly impaired. On a spectrum between completely healthy volition and absent volition he was at least 95 per cent impaired and probably 100 per cent absent volition.

A number of helpful points arise from the three lengthy judgments given. First, the court rejected any need to differentiate between mental and physical impairment. Second, a person with a mental impairment owes a duty of care. Third, the standard of care should not be adjusted to take account of the personal characteristics of the Defendant, it is purely objective. Fourth, only Defendants whose attack or medical incapacity has the effect of entirely eliminating any fault or responsibility for the injury can be said not to have broken their duty of care.

The Claimant’s appeal was therefore allowed. Interestingly the court noted that insanity is a defence in crime because criminal law is punitive whereas the function of the law of tort is to compensate victims.

Vicarious Liability

In Graham v Commercial Bodyworks Ltd [2015] EWCA Civ 47  the court had to determine whether an employer was vicariously liable for the acts of an employee who sprayed a co-worker’s overalls with thinning agent and then set them alight causing him considerable injury.

Having looked at the Canadian authorities in sex abuse cases, the court considered that the starting point was to examine whether there was a close connection between the creation or enhancement of a risk by the employer and the wrong that accrues therefrom. In this case the employers created a risk in requiring their employees to work with paint thinners but there was not a sufficiently close connection between that risk and the wrongful act. The wrongful act did not further the employer’s aims and it was not related to friction, confrontation or intimacy inherent in the employer's enterprise.

Where the employment does not require the exercise of force and there is no inherent friction, intentional conduct in the workplace, whether horseplay or more serious acts, will not normally give rise to vicarious liability.

Vicarious Liability and Non-Delegable Duties

The Court of Appeal in NA v Nottingham County Council [2015] EWCA Civ 1139 held that a local authority was not vicariously liable for the abuse of a child by the foster carers with which it placed her, nor did it owe her a non-delegable duty to protect her from harm.

The relationship between the local authority and the foster carers was not sufficiently akin to one of employment to give rise to vicarious liability.

On the issue of a non-delegable duty all three members of the court of appeal gave different reasons summarised in our November 2015 PI Briefing. In brief, Tomlinson LJ held that the local authority had discharged rather than delegated its duty in placing the child with foster carers. Burnett LJ held that what the Claimant sought to do was to expand the common law imposing a strict duty on local authorities on the basis that foster parents were not always able to satisfy a claim. Black LJ held that it would not be fair just and reasonable to apply such a duty; in fact it would be unreasonably burdensome and potentially harmful if it led to over cautious practice.