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Tort XXIX - Causation XV

Updated on August 25, 2017

In Farrell v Avon Health Authority (2001) the plaintiff was a father who’d been told that his newborn baby had died. Shocked by the news the father succumbed to a psychiatric illness. Soon afterwards he was told that the baby was alive and that the hospital had made a mistake. Regardless of the fact that he’d been told that the baby was well, the illness that he succumbed to exacerbated the other problems that he had namely drinking and drug addiction. The plaintiff sued.

The court held that the father was a primary victim and the category of primary victim was broadened following the limitation set by Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1992) which defined a primary victim as someone who fears for his or her own safety and as a result suffers from nervous shock or succumbs to a psychiatric illness.

Nevertheless, as per the decision in McLoughlin v O'Brian (1983) the father was entitled to claim. Any parent who succumbs to nervous shock either as a result of witnessing the state their child was in after an accident or thought that their child was a victim of a mishap or an accident, though that may not necessarily be the case see Hambrook v Stokes Brothers (1925), is entitled to claim.

In Mullaney v Chief Constable of West Midlands (2001) the plaintiff a probationary police officer sustained serious injuries while making an arrest. He tried to request for help or backup and made 4 radio calls for assistance but no help was forthcoming. The plaintiff sued.

The court in line with the decision in Costello v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police (1999) held that police officers owed a duty of care to other police officers and the police in this instance had breached that duty of care by failing to come to the assistance of the probationary officer. The reasoning in the case was similar to the reasoning in the earlier case of Costello v Chief Constable of Northumbria Police (1999).

In Orange v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (2002) the widow of a man who committed suicide while he was in the custody of the police by hanging himself with a belt sued the police for negligence. The court in line with the decision in Reeves v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (1999) held that the police owed the plaintiff a duty of care and that they had breached that duty of care by failing to prevent the suicide.

The court decided that the police had a duty to determine beforehand if a prisoner in their custody was suicide prone or had a tendency to commit suicide and were required to take the necessary precautions, if they found that the prisoner was likely to commit suicide, by ensuring that the prisoner did not have the means to do so.

It addition to committing suicide with belts, other items that prisoners normally have on them or use on their persons can also be used to commit suicide including shirts see Reeves v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (1999).

In Bradford-Smart v West Sussex CC (2002) the plaintiff was a student who was repeatedly bullied after school and the incident took place outside the school premises. As a result of the bullying she succumbed to a psychiatric illness. The plaintiff sued. The court held that while a student is under the supervision of the school when he or she is within the school premises that supervision ends as soon as the student leaves the school premises but there may be exceptions when a duty may be imposed on the school in instances where the student is bullied outside school.

The courts did not reject the idea or the possibility of imposing a duty on a school when a student is bullied outside school but whether that duty is breached or otherwise would depend on the facts of the case. The plaintiff was unsuccessful.

With regards to bullying outside school, normally there is very little that the school can do because the child is no longer in their care but a police complaint can be made.

Anyone who stumbles across a bullying incident can make the complaint but if it involves other children in the same school it might be appropriate to bring the matter to the attention of the school and if the school fails to take any action and the victim feels threatened, the victim or anyone on his or her behalf can make the complaint.

© 2017 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward

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