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PI and Civil Litigation

Law - practice - procedure

07 AUG 2015

Rod James-Bowen, Nigel Cowley, Mark Jones, John Donohue v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis EWHC 1249 (QB)

Rod James-Bowen, Nigel Cowley, Mark Jones, John Donohue v The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis EWHC 1249 (QB)
Psychiatric Injury - strike out application 

High Court, Queen’s Bench Division: Mr Justice Jay

1 May 2015

The defendant’s application to strike out the claimants’ claims for psychiatric injury was allowed, as they were not parties to the action and they therefore had no remedy against the defendant for alleged harm caused by the defendant in settling the claim. Further, the claimants’ claim for psychiatric injury was not sufficiently made out in law.

The Police Commissioner had settled a claim brought by a suspect who alleged that the claimants, all police officers had seriously assaulted him. The claimants had previously attended a conference with the Commissioner’s legal team and had been assured that the claim would be “vigorously defended” and that their interests would be protected.

The claimants brought proceedings against the defendant for economic loss, reputational damage and psychiatric injury. They argued that a client/solicitor retainer and/or a contractual relationship had been created between them and the defendant’s legal team, that assurances were given during a conference with the defendant’s counsel that the claimants’ interests would be protected and that by later reneging on these assurances and settling the claim the defendant had breached its duty of care to the claimants, causing harm.

The defendant applied to strike out/for summary judgment of the claimants’ claims.

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The court found in favour of the defendant and struck out the claims. The assurances given by the defendant’s counsel did not have the legal effect of creating a retainer. For a retainer to exist there would need to be an express contract in place and there was not. It was not sufficient that at the time of the conference there was a “common interest” and that the reputations of the claimants was threatened.

Further, the court held that a risk that the claimants may suffer damage as a result of the suspect’s action did not justify the imposition of a duty of care on the defendant in settling that claim, especially given the claimants were not parties to the suit. It would not be fair, just or reasonable to impose a duty where to do so would cut across the rights and obligations of the defendant itself.

Finally, the psychiatric injuries suffered by the claimants was not foreseeable. There were no signs of prior vulnerability to such injury and the circumstances were not so extreme to render it foreseeable that the claimants would suffer a recognised psychiatric injury, rather than anger and distress.

The defendant was entitled to settle the suspect’s claim as it saw fit. If the defendant did not defend the case properly or “inappropriately lavished” public money on a weak case, this would be a matter for the Home Secretary rather than for the civil courts.

Joseph Carr & Ellen Lucas, Anthony Gold
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