Dobbie v Medway Health Authority: CA 11 May 1994

The plaintiff had a lump on her breast. The surgeon, without first subjecting the lump to a microscopic examination in order to determine whether it was cancerous or benign, removed the breast. This was in 1973. The lump was subsequently found to be benign. The patient knew very soon after the operation that the lump was benign but did not know until 1988 that that meant her breast need not have been removed. She began proceedings for negligence in 1989.
Held: Time began to run from the date of knowledge of the cause of an injury, not the date when the claimant knew that the cause was tortious. Sir Thomas Bingham MR considered the test of knowledge: ‘This test is not in my judgment hard to apply. It involves ascertaining the personal injury on which the claim is founded and asking when the claimant knew of it. In the case of an insidious disease or a delayed result of a surgical mishap, this knowledge may come well after the suffering of the disease or the performance of the surgery. But more usually the claimant knows that he has suffered personal injury as soon or almost as soon as he does so’. ‘The word ‘attributable’ in section 14(1) (b) does not mean ’caused by’. It merely means ‘capable of being attributed”.
Sir Thomas Bingham MR said: ‘The personal injury on which the plaintiff seeks to found her claim is the removal of her breast and the psychological and physical harm which followed. She knew of this injury within hours, days or months of the operation and she at all times reasonably considered it to be significant. She knew from the beginning that this injury was capable of being attributed to, or more bluntly was the clear and direct result of, an act or omission of the health authority. What she did not appreciate until later was that the health authority’s act or omission was (arguably) negligent or blameworthy. But her want of that knowledge did not stop time beginning to run.’
As to the meaning of ‘significant injury’: ‘The requirement that the injury of which a plaintiff has knowledge should be ‘significant’ is in my view directed solely to the quantum of the injury and not to the plaintiff’s evaluation of its cause, nature or usualness. Time does not run against a plaintiff, even if he is aware of the injury, if he would reasonably have considered it insufficiently serious to justify proceedings against an acquiescent and credit-worthy defendant, if (in other words) he would reasonably have accepted it as a fact of life or not worth bothering about. It is otherwise if the injury is reasonably to be considered as sufficiently serious within the statutory definition: time then runs (subject to the requirement of attributability) even if the plaintiff believes the injury to be normal or properly caused.’
Sir Thomas Bingham MR, Steyn LJ
Ind Summary 06-Jun-1994, Times 18-May-1994, [1994] 1 WLR 1234, 1994 5 MEDLR 160, [1994] EWCA Civ 13, [1994] 4 All ER 450, [1994] PIQR 353
Bailii
Limitation Act 1980 11(4)(b) 14(1)(b)
England and Wales
Citing:
CitedHalford v Brookes CA 1991
The plaintiff, the mother and administratrix of the estate of a 16 year old girl, alleged that her daughter had been murdered by one or both of the Defendants. The claim was for damages for battery. Rougier J at first instance had decided that: . .

Cited by:
CitedRowbottom v Royal Masonic Hospital CA 12-Feb-2002
The claimant sought damages for the negligent failure to administer antibiotics. Earlier proceedings had been discontinued, and the hospital resisted subsequent proceedings, claiming them to be time-barred. The claimant asserted that he knew of the . .
CitedO’Driscoll v Dudley Health Authority CA 30-Apr-1998
The plaintiff sought damages for the negligence of the respondent in her care at birth. Years later the family concluded that her condition was a result of negligence. They waited until she was 21, when they mistakenly believed that she became an . .
CitedLinda Anne Roberts v Adrian John Winbow (3) CA 4-Dec-1998
The plaintiff was treated for depression by the defendant by prescription of drugs. She sufferred a reaction, but now claimed that the doctor’s slow reaction caused her to suffer lasting injury. The question on appeal was, if a plaintiff suffers . .
CitedHaward and others v Fawcetts HL 1-Mar-2006
The claimant sought damages from his accountants, claiming negligence. The accountants pleaded limitation. They had advised him in connection with an investment in a company which investment went wrong.
Held: It was argued that the limitation . .
CitedKR and others v Bryn Alyn Community (Holdings) Ltd and Another CA 10-Jun-2003
The court considered an extension of the time for claiming damages for personal injuries after the claimants said they had been sexually abused as children in the care of the defendants.
Held: The test to be applied under section 14(2) was . .
CitedMcCoubrey v Ministry of Defence CA 24-Jan-2007
The defendant appealed a decision allowing a claim to proceed more than ten years after it had been suffered. The claimant’s hearing had been damaged after an officer threw a thunderflash into his trench on an exercise.
Held: The defendant’s . .
CitedPierce v Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council QBD 13-Dec-2007
The claimant sought damages, saying that the local authority had failed to protect him when he was a child against abuse by his parents.
Held: The claimant had been known to the authority since he was a young child, and they owed him a duty of . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 09 April 2021; Ref: scu.80075