Page v Smith – 1996

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Page v Smith [1996] AC 155

NEGLIGENCE – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – FORESEEABILITY OF HARM – VICTIM WITH PRE-EXISTING CONDITION

Facts

The claimant (C) was involved in a collision with the defendant (D) whilst both were driving. C suffered no physical injuries as a result of the crash but, several hours later, he felt exhausted and the exhaustion had not abated. For a number of years prior to the accident Cc had suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, the symptoms of which manifested sporadically.

C brought an action claiming damages for personal injury caused by the negligence of D, in that, as a result of the collision, his condition had since become both chronic and permanent, making it unlikely that he would be able to pursue full-time employment in the future. D was found liable and the Court of Appeal allowed his appeal on the ground that C’s injury was not reasonably foreseeable and leave was given to remit the case to the House of Lords.

Issues

The principal issue that the House of Lords were called upon to resolve was whether, in a claim brought in negligence for psychiatric damage caused by D, it was necessary to establish that this particular type of harm was a foreseeable consequence of D’s negligence, or whether it would suffice merely that some form of compensatable harm was foreseeable, such as a physical injury.

Held

The House of Lords found in favour of C, albeit by a bare majority (Lords Keith and Jauncey dissenting) and held that, provided it was reasonably foreseeable that C would suffer some physical injury as a result of D’s negligence, it was not necessary that the type of harm caused was itself reasonably foreseeable; C was thus within the ambit of D’s duty of care.

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