This was an appeal by the defendants against a decision of the Court of Appeal, which had decided that the widow of a man who had committed suicide could recover damages under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 in respect of financial losses attributable to the suicide.
The company had employed her husband as a maintenance engineer. He suffered a blow to the head by a machine leaving him badly disfigured. He had a long period of painful reconstructive surgery but was still disfigured and also suffered headaches, dizziness, psychiatric problems and post traumatic stress disorder. He became more and more depressed and on one occasion had taken an overdose of drugs. His intellectual capacity was not affected. He committed suicide almost six years after the accident.
Prior to the death he had commenced court proceedings against the defendants. After his death his widow was substituted as a claimant. The defendants argued that the suicide was outside the scope of duty of care which it owed to the husband as it was not reasonably foreseeable; that the act of committing suicide broke the chain of causation and therefore amounted to a novus actus interveniens; that since committing suicide was a voluntary and unreasonable act, this broke the chain of causation and also amounted to contributory negligence.
The House of Lords held that the employers owed a duty of care, which covered both psychiatric injury and physical injury. It was a breach of that duty which had caused both types of injury. The deceased had not been fully responsible for his actions at the time of his death but was not insane. He would not have behaved in the way he did had it not been for the injury he suffered. Depression, even very severe depression, was foreseeable as a consequence of the breach of duty by the company and there was no need for the claimant to show that suicide itself was foreseeable.
The suicide was not a novus actus, the damages were not too remote. It was inappropriate for the court to make a finding on the question of contributory negligence, though some of the Judges thought that in some cases a deduction for contributory negligence might be appropriate when suicide was committed in a state of depression caused by an accident.
Corr -v- IBC Vehicles (2008) UKHL 13