• In the case of Dunnage v Randall UK insurance ltd 2015 EWCA Civ 673, it was held that mental illnesses are not considered when assessing the duty of care in negligence actions.

Facts of the Case

  • The appellant appealed against a decision stating he was not entitled to damages due to injuries sustained when he attempted to prevent his uncle (the first respondent) from setting fire to himself.
  • The uncle has poured petrol over himself, and the appellant had successfully attempted to prevent him from igniting it.
  • The uncle died and the appellant suffered serious burns to his face and body.
  • The uncle was subsequently diagnosed with florid paranoid schizophrenia.
  • As the incident occurred at the uncle’s house, there was an issue relating to whether it was covered by house insurance or accidental bodily injury to any person.
  • It was concluded with the help of two psychiatric experts that the uncle’s delusional state would have been so overwhelming as to render him incapable of formulating any rational alternative action and that he had not been in control of his actions.
  • At first instance, the judge held that the extreme nature of the manifestation of his mental illness meant that the uncle could not have been acting voluntarily and therefore owed no duty of care to the appellant.

Issues in Dunnage v Randall UK insurance ltd 2015 EWCA Civ 673

  • Was a person liable in negligence where he was suffering from a mental disorder.

Held by Court of Appeal

  • Appeal allowed

Rafferty LJ

  • Held that there was no principle which required the law to excuse a defendant from liability in negligence where he failed to meet the normal standers of care partly due to a medical problem.
  • Only a defendant whose medical incapacity had the effect of entirely eliminating any fault or responsibility for the injury could be excused.
  • “The objective standard of care reflects the policy of the law. It is not a question of the law discriminating unfairly against people with physical or mental illness. The law takes the view as a matter of policy that everyone should owe the same duty of care for the protection of innocent victims. It would after all, in many cases, be open to a person who knows he has reduced abilities to take account of those abilities in what he does: that is why Mansfield was decided the other way from Morriss. There will be hard cases, as this case may be one, where a person does not know what action to take to avoid injury to others. However, his liability is no doubt treated in law as the price for being able to move freely within society despite his schizophrenia.” [153]