Corr -v- IBC Vehicles Ltd; HL 27-Feb-2008

The claimant’s husband had committed suicide. She sought damages for financial loss from his former employers under the 1976 Act. He had suffered a severe and debilitating injury working for them leading to his depression and suicide. The employers said that these damages were too remote.
Held: The employer’s appeal was dismissed.
Lord Bingham said: ‘Mr Corr’s suicide was not a voluntary, informed decision taken by him as an adult of sound mind making and giving effect to a personal decision about his future. It was the response of a man suffering from a severely depressive illness which impaired his capacity to make reasoned and informed judgments about his future, such illness being, as is accepted, a consequence of the employer’s tort. It is in no way unfair to hold the employer responsible for this dire consequence of its breach of duty, although it could well be thought unfair to the victim not to do so.’ and ‘The law does not generally treat us as our brother’s keeper, responsible for what he may choose to do to his own disadvantage. It is his choice. But I do not think that the submission addresses the particular features of this case. The employer owed the deceased the duty already noted, embracing psychological as well as physical injury. Its breach caused him injury of both kinds. While he was not, at the time of his death, insane in M’Naghten’s terms, nor was he fully responsible. He acted in a way which he would not have done but for the injury from which the employer’s breach caused him to suffer. This being so, I do not think his conduct in taking his own life can be said to fall outside the scope of the duty which his employer owed him. ‘
Lord Hoffmann said: ‘On a ‘but for’ test, his jump from the top of the multi-storey carpark can be said to have been ’caused’ by his employer’s negligence. But the developing case law has placed limits on the extent of the ‘but for’ consequences of actionable negligence for which the negligent actor can be held liable. This case engages and questions the extent of those limits . . The question in this case, therefore, is whether Mr Corr’s deliberate act of jumping from a high building in order to kill himself, an apparent novus actus, albeit one that was causally connected, on a ‘but-for’ basis, to the original negligence, broke the claim of causative consequences for which Mr Corr’s negligent employers must accept responsibility.’

Court: HL
Date: 27-Feb-2008
Judges: Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Scott of Foscote, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe, Lord Mance, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury
Statutes: Fatal Accidents Act 1976 1, Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934
Links: Bailii,
References: [2008] UKHL 13, [2008] 2 WLR 499, [2008] 2 All ER 943, [2008] ICR 372, [2008] AC 884, [2008] PIQR P11
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