Ministry of Defence v AB and Others: SC 14 Mar 2012

The respondent Ministry had, in 1958, conducted experimental atmospheric explosions of atomic weapons. The claimants had been obliged as servicemen to observe the explosions, and appealed against dismissal of their claims for radiation sickness under the 1980 Act. They said that they had only acquired the knowledge to found an action in 2007 on the issue of a scientific report from New Zealand, but they had issued the action before then.
Held: The servicemen’s appeals were dismissed (Lord Phillips, Lady Hale and Lord Kerr dissenting). The court should answer two questions. It should first identify just what knowledge was to be present to satisfy the test, and then what state of mind, assessed subjectively or objectively would amount to knowledge of it. Since a claimant must state that he believes that his assertions are true, it must be a legal impossibility to deny knowledge of the facts at that time. The inquiry required by section 14(1) was also retrospective. Once an expert had been consulted and his advice received, a claimant’s belief’s properly were characterised as ‘knowledge’ for the section. Once that knowledge arose there could be no open ended extension of the time within which an action must be brought. Evidential difficulties faced by a claimant were not to be counted as lack of knowledge.
The dissenting judges drew clear distinctions between knowledge and belief. A claimant’s subjective belief was not a sensible basis for deciding whether the claim is time-barred.

Lord Phillips, President, Lord Walker, Lady Hale, Lord Brown, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson
[2012] UKSC 9, [2012] 2 WLR 643, UKSC 2010/0247, [2012] 3 All ER 673, [2013] 1 AC 78, 125 BMLR 69, [2012] PIQR P13, [2012] WLR(D) 79, (2012) 125 BMLR 69, [2012] Med LR 306
Bailii, Bailii Summary, SC Summary, SC
Limitation Act 1980 11(4) 14(1)
England and Wales
CitedDas v Ganju CA 31-Mar-1999
Where a personal injury action had been delayed for five years by bad advice from solicitors and counsel, the court’s discretion should be exercised to allow the plaintiff to proceed with her claim, not herself being responsible for the delay.
CitedA’Court v Cross 28-Nov-1825
Defendant being arrested on a debt more than six years old, said, ‘I know that I owe the money, but the bill I gave is on a threepenny receipt stamp, and I will never pay it.’ Held, not such an acknowledgment as would revive the debt agdinst a plea . .
CitedSmith v Central Asbestos Co Ltd; Central Asbestos Co Ltd v Dodd HL 1973
The House considered at what point an injured person was to be deemed to have become aware of his injury so as to start the limitation period.
Held: A majority rejected the proposition that knowledge of ‘material facts’ for section 1(3) . .
CitedChurch v Ministry of Defence QBD 23-Feb-1984
The 62 year old claimant sought damages after working in in the defendant’s dockyard and being exposed to asbestos. Pleural plaques were apparent on X-ray and the pleura would constrict the lung and induce breathlessness; and the asbestos must have . .
CitedSykes v Ministry of Defence QBD 19-Mar-1984
The claimant was exposed to asbestos whilst working for the defendant in the naval dockyard at Portsmouth, and sought damages having developed pleural plaques, but no further damage was expected, save ‘a slightly increased risk of developing a lung . .
CitedDavis v Ministry of Defence CA 26-Jul-1985
May LJ said: ‘Knowledge’ is an ordinary English word with a clear meaning to which one must give full effect; ‘reasonable belief’ or ‘suspicion’ is not enough. The relevant question merits repetition – ‘when did the appellant first know that his . .
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: . .
CitedNash v Eli Lilly and Co CA 1993
The court considered whether a solicitor acting for a potential plaintiff was considered to be an expert for the purposes of the section.
Held: Purchas LJ said: ‘Of course as advice from a solicitor as to the legal consequences of the act or . .
CitedBroadley v Guy Clapham and Co CA 9-Sep-1993
The limitation period starts when a reasonable person would have sought medical help. Section 14(1)(b) requires that ‘one should look at the way the plaintiff puts his case, distil what he is complaining about and ask whether he had in broad terms . .
CitedWhitfield v North Durham Health Authority CA 1995
In 1987, and before the claim was issued in 1992 the claimant had issued a claim which had never been served. She sought to extend the limitation period arguing that she had not acquired the requisite knowledge until later,
Held: She had had . .
CitedSpargo v North Essex District Health Authority CA 13-Mar-1997
The test of ‘When a plaintiff became aware of the cause of an injury’ is a subjective test of what passed through plaintiff’s mind. ‘(1) the knowledge required to satisfy s14(1)(b) is a broad knowledge of the essence of the causally relevant act or . .
CitedSniezek v Bundy (Letchworth) Limited CA 7-Jul-2000
The claimant appealed against a finding that having once already issued a claim, a second claim was out of time, not accepting that she had had the knowledge effective to commence the limitation period.
Held: Judge LJ had ‘difficulty in . .
CitedAmin, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for the Home Department HL 16-Oct-2003
Prisoner’s death – need for full public enquiry
The deceased had been a young Asian prisoner. He was placed in a cell overnight with a prisoner known to be racist, extremely violent and mentally unstable. He was killed. The family sought an inquiry into the death.
Held: There had been a . .

Cited by:
CitedSiddiqui v University of Oxford QBD 5-Dec-2016
The University applied to have struck out the claim by the claimant for damages alleging negligence in its teaching leading to a lower class degree than he said he should have been awarded.
Held: Strike out on the basis that the claim was . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Limitation, Personal Injury

Leading Case

Updated: 10 November 2021; Ref: scu.452130