Heart attack through stress

A brewing company sent a publican to manage a pub in a rough area to increase its profit. He worked very long hours and 18 months later suffered a heart attack. He alleged negligence in failing to relieve his stress and exhaustion through working those hours in a frightening pub rife with criminal activity.

At first instance a Judge held that the publican had shown this stress was likely to injure his health but this was overturned on appeal. The Court of Appeal held there should be some finding of the “high water mark” of the publican’s case. This entailed analysis of what was said by the publican about his health, to whom and when to find the circumstances that would put the brewery on notice that if they did not take action it was reasonably foreseeable the publican would suffer psychiatric breakdown or a heart attack.

Interestingly they said the main cause of stress was environmental (the criminal area) and the brewery had no control over that. His hours of work were in his own hands. Nor was there any medical evidence of imminent danger to his health.

So – held – the heart attack was not reasonably foreseeable and no breach of duty.

Edward Harding -v- The Pub Estate Company Limited, CA Civ Div, 11 May 2005.

Suicide consequent to personal injury

The claimant suffered personal injuries at work for which the defendants admitted liability. Six years after the accident, the claimant committed suicide during a depressive episode that his wife attributed to his accident and the subsequent litigation. The widow argued that the “but for” and material contribution tests were satisfied, that she did not have to prove that suicide had been reasonably foreseeable; provided some injury had been foreseeable it did not matter whether that injury was physical or psychiatric.

In the High Court, the judge rejected these arguments, saying that the question of reasonable foreseeability was relevant to whether a duty of care existed. The damages sought to be recovered in relation to the suicide fell outside the duty of care, so the widow was not entitled to claim damages in respect of the suicide of the husband. As a matter of law, reasonable foreseeability of a suicide had to be established in respect of the duty of care and the recovery of damages.

Corr -v- IBC Vehicles Limited QBD 28 April 2005.