West Law Report

Addiction not contributory

Posted in Times Law Report by mrkooenglish on November 9, 2008

From The Times
October 22, 2008
Addiction not contributory

Court of Appeal

Published October 22, 2008

St George v Home Office

Before Lord Justice Ward, Lord Justice Dyson and Lord Justice Lloyd

Judgment October 8, 2008

An addict who was injured in custody after suffering a seizure through drugs withdrawal did not contribute to his injury as his addiction was not a potent cause of the damage.

The Court of Appeal so held in a reserved judgment when, inter alia, allowing a cross-appeal by the claimant, Ryan St George, a patient suing by his father and litigation friend, David St George, from Mr Justice Mackay, on October 26, 2007, on the trial of preliminary issues as to liability and quantum.

The judge found the defendant, the Home Office, liable in negligence to the claimant, but also found contributory negligence on the part of the claimant. In so finding, the judge found that fault lay in the claimant’s addiction from the age of 15 or so to benzodiazepine and alcohol, which was the result of his lifestyle decisions; and he ruled that damages, when assessed, should be reduced by 15 per cent.

The claimant, when aged 29, was in custody and lying on the top bunk bed allocated to him when he suffered a seizure which, it was common ground, resulted from his withdrawal from alcohol and drugs. The seizure caused him to fall from his bunk and he suffered a head wound. The fit continued without remission, status epilepticus, and he was later found to have suffered progressive severe brain damage and was now severely disabled.

Mr David Pittaway, QC and Miss Jane Tracy Forster for Mr St George; Mr Michael Kent, QC and Mr Andrew O’Connor for the Home Office.

LORD JUSTICE DYSON said on the cross-appeal that although the judge was entitled to find that the claimant was at fault in becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, his fault in becoming so addicted in his mid-teens was not a potent cause of the status epilepticus and the consequent brain injury triggered by his fall: see Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd (The Times February 28, 2008; [2008] 2 WLR 499, paragraph 44). It was too remote in time, place and circumstance and was not sufficiently connected with the negligence of the prison staff.

The addiction was no more than part of the history which had led to his being a person whose medical and psychological conditions were as they were when he was admitted to prison.

The claimant’s injury was, therefore, not partly the result of his becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol as a teenager; even if it had been it would not be just and equitable to reduce any damages.

Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Ward agreed.

Solicitors: Hodge Jones & Allen; Treasury Solicitor.

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