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Appleton v Garrett [1996] 5 PIQR P1

TRESPASS TO THE PERSON – AGGRAVATED DAMAGES

Facts

The claimants were patients of the defendant dentist, who had carried out unnecessary treatment upon them. The defendant had deliberately withheld information about the necessity of the treatment in the knowledge that they would not have consented to the treatment had he made them aware of the facts.  

The claimants sought aggravated damages from the defendant on the basis that, inter alia, they had suffered trespass to the person.

Issue

The issues were firstly whether liability for trespass to the person was made out in the circumstances, and secondly whether aggravated damages could be awarded for trespass to the person.

Held

On the first issue, the court held that the lack of consent to the treatment on teeth which did not require treatment was sufficient to establish liability for trespass to the person.

On the second issue, the court held that there were two elements which determined the availability of aggravated damages: firstly, the presence of ‘exceptional’ or ‘contumelious’ conduct by the defendant; secondly, ‘intangible loss’ or injury to the personality suffered by the claimant. On the facts of this case, the first element was made out as the defendant had deliberately caused pain and damage to the claimants, who had placed him in a position of trust. The second element was also present as the claimants had suffered a heightened sense of injury upon learning that their treatments had been unnecessary.  In quantifying the damages, the court followed the principle in W v Meah [1986] 1 All E.R. 935 that aggravated damages should be moderate; in this case, they were assessed at 15% of the general damages awarded.


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