Causation Matters

Badge of the Sussex Police

In Saunders v Chief Constable of Sussex Police*, a police officer who suffered psychiatric illness after an incident with a violent suspect has failed in his appeal against the dismissal of his claim.

In spite of a finding of negligence on the part of the force when the officer returned to work, the trial judge found that it had not caused the subsequent mental breakdown and so the claim did not succeed.

The claimant had suffered flashbacks and nightmares after being involved in the arrest of a violent suspect whom he discovered had been carrying a knife.

He fell into depression and eventually had to take time off work under the care of a psychiatrist. After 6 months he returned to work on the basis that he would have access to an inspector as a contact to provide support.

When he re-started however, the inspector was absent and there was no alternative contact. After 5 days, the claimant broke down, drove to a lay-by and attempted suicide.

He brought a claim arguing that had he been provided with an appropriate point of contact upon his return to work and/or had an appropriate point of contact been available, particularly on the day when he attempted suicide, he would not have suffered the catastrophic mental breakdown.

The judge found that the force had been negligent in failing to ensure that an appropriate point of contact had been available for the claimant to speak to or contact upon his return to work. However, he also found that, even if that point of contact been made available, it was unlikely that the claimant would have spoken to anyone or raised his own concerns about his condition.

Therefore, while finding negligence, the judge found that the claimant had failed to establish causation and the claim was dismissed. The Court of Appeal declined to interfere with that judgment on the basis it was a finding the trial judge was entitled to make. He had considered the evidence carefully, given credible reasons and it was impossible to say he had been wrong.

It is a reminder that proving negligence is never enough on its own; establishing that loss or damage has been caused by that negligence is essential.

*The Court of Appeal reference is [2012] All ER (D) 140 (Jul) and the original judgment reference is [2012] EWHC 743 (QB) but neither report appears to be available publicly.

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Filed under Cases, Occupational Stress

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