• In the case of Corr v IBC Vehicles [2008] 2 WLR 499 2, what breaks the chain of causation was explored, whether the voluntary actions of the victim would do so, and the foreseeability of the victim’s actions.

Facts of Corr v IBC Vehicles [2008] 2 WLR 499 2

  • Corr, V, whilst working as a maintenance engineer for the IBC Vehicles, D, suffered severe head injuries by one of the machines
  • The V suffered from PTSD, anxiety, and depression following lengthy reconstructive surgery due to the head injuries, and eventually committed suicide
  • The V’s wife, C, brought an action against the D, suing them for their negligence which caused her husband’s death
  • The D admitted their fault and thus the C was awarded some damages however the judge dismissed her fatal accident claim by believing that the suicide was not reasonably foreseeable by the D
  • C appealed and the Court of Appeal allowed it against the judge’s previous dismissal; D’s then appealed this decision

Issues in Corr v IBC Vehicles [2008] 2 WLR 499 2

  • Did it matter that the V had consciously and by his own volition committed suicide, or was this still linked with what the D’s negligence caused?
  • In other words, was the chain of causation broken at any time, taking the blame away from the D?

Held by the House of Lords

  • Appeal dismissed with all five Lords in agreement. The D was liable for the V’s death as the chain of causation had not been broken. It was not necessary for the C to prove that the D’s negligence caused the V’s suicide, just that he suffered depression due to the injury caused by the Ds’ negligence.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill

Lord Bingham considered each submission in turn and whether they would break the chain of causation:

  • “(1) The scope of duty issue … 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” [9 and 10]
  • “(2) The foreseeability issue … I can readily accept that some manifestations of severe depression could properly be held to be so unusual and unpredictable as to be outside the bounds of what is reasonably foreseeable, but suicide cannot be so regarded. While it is not, happily, a usual manifestation, it is one that, as Sedley LJ put it [2007] QB 46, para 66, is not uncommon. That is enough for the claimant to succeed … if it were necessary for the claimant in this case to have established the reasonable foreseeability by the employer of suicide, I think the employer would have had difficulty escaping an adverse finding: considering the possible effect of this accident on a hypothetical employee, a reasonable employer would, I think, have recognised the possibility not only of acute depression but also of such depression culminating in a way in which, in a significant minority of cases, it unhappily does.” [11 and 13]
  • “(3) The novus actus issue … 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.” [16]
  • “(4) The unreasonable act issue … it is unreasonable in almost any situation to take one’s own life. But once it is accepted, as it must be, that the deceased’s unreasonable conduct was induced by the breach of duty of which the claimant complains” [17]
  • “(5) The volenti issue … salutary and fair principle that a tortfeasor cannot be held responsible for injury or damage to which a victim, voluntarily and with his eyes open, consents … But that was not something to which Mr Corr consented voluntarily and with his eyes open but an act performed because of the psychological condition which the employer’s breach of duty had induced” [18]