In Evie Toombes v. Dr. Philip Mitchell  EWHC 3506 the High Court has given renewed consideration to claims for, so called, “wrongful life”. Can a disabled person ever claim damages on the basis that they would not have been born but for the defendant’s negligence? The Court answered that question with a resounding “yes”.
Where a disabled child would not have been born but for the Defendant’s negligence, it is well established that their parent has a claim for the reasonable costs associated with the child’s disability . That is a “wrongful birth” claim: see Parkinson  EWCA Civ 530. However, the child cannot bring a claim for personal injury on the basis that, with competent advice, their mother would have chosen a termination. In McKay v. Essex Area Health Authority  2 All ER 771 the Court of Appeal affirmed the principle that a disabled claimant cannot sue for “wrongful life”. In Toombes the Court reconsidered the scope of that prohibition. Did it apply only to termination cases? Or did it extend to claims that, absent the negligence, a disabled person would never have been conceived?
In Ecila Henderson v. Dorset Healthcare University NHS Trust Foundation  UKSC 43 the Supreme Court has revisited the defence of illegality (“ex turpi causa”) in the context of a claim for clinical negligence.
The claimant — a mental health patient — had committed a criminal offence as a result of the defendant health authority’s admitted negligence. Can a claimant, who would not have committed an offence but for the Defendant’s negligence, recover losses arising from their own criminality? Can they seek compensation for the pain, suffering and loss of earnings caused by a custodial sentence? Can they recover general damages for feelings of guilt and remorse? The Supreme Court answered these questions with a resounding “no”.
Ms Henderson suffered from paranoid schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Whilst under the care of the Defendant’s community mental health team she stabbed her mother to death. She did so whilst experiencing a serious psychotic episode. She was convicted of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
In sentencing her, the judge said that: “… there is no suggestion in your case that you should be seen as bearing a significant degree of responsibility for what you did”. The judge sentenced Ms Henderson to a hospital order under the Mental Health Act 1983.
Ms Henderson subsequently brought a civil claim against the Defendant Trust. The Trust admitted liability for its negligent failure to return her to hospital when her psychiatric condition deteriorated and accepted that, if it had done this, the tragic killing of Ms Henderson’s mother would not have taken place.
However, the Trust argued that Ms Henderson’s claim was barred for illegality (“ex turpi causa”), because the damages she claimed resulted from: (i) the sentence imposed on her by the criminal court; and/or (ii) her own criminal act of manslaughter.
In the Christian Brothers case Lord Phillips of famously declared that “the law of vicarious liability is on the move”. The recent decision of the Supreme Court in Barclays Bank v. Various Claimants UKSC 13 has brought that movement to a juddering halt. The question posed by the appeal was a simple one. Is it possible to be vicariously liable for the acts of a self-employed ‘independent contractor’?The answer the Court gave in this case was ‘no’.
The group litigation concerned the vicarious liability of Barclays for sexual assaults in the 1970s and early 1980s. The alleged assaults were committed in the North East by a now deceased general practitioner: Dr Bates.
Dr Bates was a self-employed medical practitioner with a portfolio practice. His work included conducting medical assessments and examinations of prospective Barclays employees. Barclays required job applicants – many of them aged 16 or under – to pass pre-employment medical examinations as part of its recruitment procedures. Barclays arranged the appointments with Dr Bates and provided him with a pro forma report headed “Barclays Confidential Medical Report”. Dr Bates was paid a fee for each report. If the report was satisfactory, the applicant’s job offer would be confirmed, subject to satisfactory GCE examination results.
Dr Bates conducted the (unchaperoned) medical examinations in a consulting room at his home. It was alleged that Dr Bates sexually assaulted 126 claimants in the group action during their medical examinations. After Dr Bates died in 2009, the claimants sought damages from Barclays.
Two recent cases have important consequences for regulated professionals who fail to participate in regulatory hearings. In Kuzmin v. GMC  EWHC 2129 (Admin) the issue was whether a tribunal can draw adverse inferences if a doctor declines to give evidence. Sanusi v. GMC  EWCA Civ 1172 concerned the tribunal’s duty of procedural fairness where a professional fails to attend the hearing at all.
Kuzmin v. GMC
The Claimant was a GP who faced an allegation of dishonesty. It was alleged that he had failed (dishonestly) to draw his employer’s attention to conditions imposed by the Interim Orders Tribunal. The doctor failed in his half-time submission of no case to answer. The doctor then indicated that he would not be giving any evidence and applied to withdraw his witness statement. The GMC sought a preliminary ruling that, as a matter of principle, the Tribunal had the power to draw adverse inferences in such circumstances. The Tribunal agreed, whereupon the Claimant sought an adjournment and applied for judicial review.
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