Claim for damages for stress related symptoms fails as Claimant was not suffering from a diagnosable condition

Mr Hussain was a taxi driver who claimed that in the course of his work he had been involved in numerous incidents causing him to call on the assistance of the police on more than 50 occasions. He alleged that the police responded in a way that amounted to misfeasance in public office and as a result he had suffered from stress related symptoms. His medical report indicated that he suffered from stress related symptoms which he experienced as irritability and physical discomfort but did not amount to a diagnosable condition such as an adjustment disorder.  

Held: In accordance with the decision of the Court of Appeal in McLoughlin v O’Brian [1983] in a claim for negligence a Claimant must establish that he is suffering not merely grief, distress or any other normal emotion, but a positive psychiatric illness. The tort of misfeasance in public office is never actionable without proof of material damage and a similar requirement applies as confirmed by the House of Lords in Watkins v Home Secretary [2006]. A recognised psychiatric illness is one which has been recognised by the psychiatric profession and in general these are illnesses that are within the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) produced by the World Health Organisation. The medical evidence in this case did not satisfy the requirement of material damage.  

Comment: This case is a welcome reminder that a Claimant, whether in a personal injury claim or a claim for misfeasance in public office, must provide evidence that they are suffering from a recognised psychiatric illness if damages are to be awarded for this aspect of the claim.  

It is common in personal injury claims for a Claimant to seek damages for distress. It is a tactical decision for Defendants and insurers in each case, depending on the evidence available, whether to press for a psychiatric report, which may bring such a claim to an end but in the alternative may be supportive of the Claimant’s case.  

In respect of claims for misfeasance in public office it should however be noted that one of the Court of Appeal Judges commented on an obiter basis that, whilst he agreed that the Claimant in this case had not succeeded in showing that he had suffered material damage, he did not consider that in Watkins the House of Lords had limited material damage only to recognised psychiatric illnesses. In his view it was important not to set the bar too high in these claims given the gravity of the tort.