Spargo 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 omission to which the injury is attributable;
(2) ‘attributable’ in this context means ‘capable of being attributed to’, in the sense of being a real possibility;
(3) a plaintiff has the requisite knowledge when she knows enough to make it reasonable for her to begin to investigate whether or not she has a case against the defendant. Another way of putting this is to say that she will have such knowledge if she so firmly believes that her condition is capable of being attributed to an act or omission which she can identify (in broad terms) that she goes to a solicitor to seek advice about making a claim for compensation;
(4) on the other hand, she will not have the requisite knowledge if she thinks she knows the acts or omissions she should investigate but in fact is barking up the wrong tree; or if her knowledge of what the defendant did or did not do is so vague or general that she cannot fairly be expected to know what she should investigate; or if her state of mind is such that she thinks her condition is capable of being attributed to the act or omission alleged to constitute negligence, but she is not sure about this, and would need to check with an expert before she could be properly said to know that it was.’
This branch of the law is grossly overloaded with reported cases. The court set out four principles for testing such actions, distinguishing the more stringent test of proof of causation from the much less rigorous statutory test of attributability’ and ‘After all, the policy of Parliament, in these cases which would otherwise be statute-barred, is to give a plaintiff who has the requisite low level of knowledge three years in which to establish by inquiry whether the identified injury was indeed probably caused by the identified omission and whether the omission (identified initially in broad terms) amounted to actionable negligence. The judge’s approach would be to stop the three years from even starting to run until a much more advanced stage of the investigation had been completed.’
Brooke, Nourse, Waller LJJ
(1997) 37 BMLR 99, [1997] EWCA Civ 1232, [1997] 8 Med LR 125, [1997] PIQR 235
Limitation Act 1980 14(1)(b)
England and Wales
Appeal fromSpargo v North Essex District Health Authority QBD 1996
A plaintiff’s knowledge that her injury could be attributed to hypoxia, is not knowledge that the injury is attributable to the act or omission alleged to constitute negligence as might be pleaded in a statement of claim and no ordinary plaintiff . .

Cited by:
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The claimant sought damages from his barrister saying that he should have introduced evidence of his good character during the trial. The defendant appealed against the order permitting extension of the limitation period.
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CitedCollins v Secretary of State for Business Innovation and Skills and Others CA 23-May-2014
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CitedSiddiqui v University of Oxford QBD 5-Dec-2016
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Held: Strike out on the basis that the claim was . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 29 December 2020; Ref: scu.141628