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Facts of the Case

Question:

Discuss About The Plaintiff That Too In A Reasonable Manner?

Psychiatric injury is something for which the damages are granted under tort of negligence. A leading case where the psychiatric injury was contested was the case of Annetts v Australian Station (2002) 211 CLR 317. In Annetts v Australian Station, the duty of care owed to the son of the plaintiff was established as the child died as a result of the mental harm which took place when he ran away. The plaintiff in this case had made a claim that they had received psychiatric injury as a result of the breach of duty of care of the defendant. However, the court did not uphold these claims and out rightly quashed the claims made by the plaintiff of this case (Sappideen, 2009).

In this report, the case has been discussed and the side of the defendant has been taken. Apart from giving the facts of the case, the arguments raised and the decision of the case, the decision has been critically analysed to decide if the undertaken decision has been right.

The name of plaintiff’s son was James Annetts who had departed from his home back in Aug 1986, which was in NSW and at that time, he was only 16 year old (Quizlet, 2017). He had left his home to go to WA for working with the defendant. Before James left for WA, his mother had a word with the defendant and asked about the working conditions at WA. She was assured by the defendant that his son would be properly supervised and was set to work in Flora Valley, where he would get a shared room and would be looked after in a proper manner (Federation Press, 2017).

For seven weeks, James continued to work to work at Flora Valley. On Oct 13, 1986, James was sent to work at a place which was 100 kilometres away from his promised place of work, despite the earlier assurances to James’s mother.  On Dec 03, 1986, it came to light that James had disappeared and was believed to be in danger of injury/ death. James’s parents, who were the plaintiff in this case, were informed about their son being missing on Dec 06, 1986 and that took over the phone where they were told that James ran away, by a NSW police officer. Upon hearing this tragic news, James’s father collapsed and James’s mother continued the telephonic conversation. On April 09, 1987, James’s skeleton was discovered and after the examination of it, it was revealed that James has died due to hypothermia, exhaustion and dehydration on Dec 04, 1986. And he had died in a place which was quite far from the place where he was supposed to work, as he died in Gibson Desert (Federation Press, 2017). The plaintiff blamed the defendant for the death of their son and also for the psychiatric injury which they sustained as a result of the tragic news (Health Law Central, 2017).

Establishing Duty of Care

From the very beginning, the employer denied the allegation made by the plaintiff and stated that a duty of care was not breached, which was only owed to James and so the claim of plaintiff that a duty of care was also owed to them was denied by the defendant.

For establishing that a duty of care was not owed in this case, the defendant referred to the basics of negligence, and followed the procedure which is required to make a claim of negligence (Harvey and Marston, 2009). For making a case of negligence, there is a need to show that a duty of care was owed which was violated, and this violation resulted in a loss, which was not remote, and which was foreseeable in a reasonable manner, where the injury was in direct causation to the violation (Gibson and Fraser, 2014). The English case of Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] UKHL 100 was referred to here. In this case, the defendant was said to have owed a duty of care to the plaintiff due to the proximity of their relationship and the loss being reasonably foreseeable (Abbott, Pendlebury and Wardman, 2007). In the current matter, there was an absence of the psychiatric injury being reasonably foreseeable as the defendant could have never known that hearing this news; a psychiatric injury would be caused as the death of James was also not reasonably foreseeable. Hence, only a duty of care could be shown towards James, owing to the proximity and relationship of employer employee but not towards the plaintiff of this case. Also, the duty of care towards James was fulfilled whereby the defendant provided safe working conditions and took so many steps to locate him when he doubted that James could be in danger (Austlii, 2017).

Reference was also made to Caparo Industries plc v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605, where the three fold risk was stated (Lunney and Oliphant, 2013). As per this test, there is a need to show that risk of harm was reasonably foreseeable, there was proximity between parties and the imposition of penalties would be fair (E-Law Resources, 2017). It has already been shown that a duty of care was not owed to the plaintiff. The risk of psychiatric injury was not reasonably foreseeable. And due to the lack of these two tests, the imposition of penalties cannot be deemed as fair (Austlii, 2017).

Psychiatric Injury

The case of Wyong Shire Council v. Shirt (1980) 146 CLR 40 was also highlighted by the defendant for showing the foreseeability of risk of harm. As per this case, the view of a prudent person has to be considering for judging if the risk was reasonably present (Jade, 2017). In the present case, even a prudent person, let alone the defendant, could not have reasonably foreseen that after running away from the work, the employee would die after being lost in the Gibson Desert. This was because James was assigned a different work place and the worker was found dead at a very faraway place. So, this risk of harm was not reasonably foreseeable. Also, the psychiatric injury was not caused to James, for which a claim can be made against the defendant (Austlii, 2017).

The proximity of the relationship and reasonable foreseeability was highlighted by Justice Deane in Jaensch v Coffey [1984] HCA 52. In this case, the judge stated that a person would be considered as having the capacity of foreseeing a specific thing once the particular situation was properly analysed. In this regard, the type of relationship on the basis of which the lawful duty is attached is to be considered from which the reasonable care has to be understood. And for these purposes, the interest of other people also had to be taken into consideration. Hence, on the basis of this case, the foreseeability of the loss and the nature of relationship are required to establish negligence (Swarb, 2015).

In order to take into consideration the relationship between James and the defendant, the type of work which was given to James, had to be analysed (Robertson and Tilbury, 2016). The defendant owed an obligation of care towards James, only in context of his working conditions and the thing covered within his work and was not to be stretched beyond work. Eloping of James, which ultimately led to his untimely death, was not a thing which could be deemed as violation of duty of care of the defendant. James was the one who violated the obligation of care, towards himself. And in case the defendant is held liable for this, it would not be just as an employer cannot reasonably foresee if an employee would run away. Thus, the lack of foreseeability would mean no duty of care or its breach (Austlii, 2017).

To establish psychiatric injury in this case, it has to be shown that this was a result of a direct perception or an abrupt fright which occurred right after the accident. The news of James disappearing was given to his parents in a step based method. This information was given over a period of time and at a distance from the accident place. So, there was an absence of things which could be stated as being immediate or a thing of shock. The plaintiff did not witness the starvation or the exhaustion of their child which could have caused a sudden shock. Sudden shock was something where the child immediately fell off the cliff. Hence, the element of shock was also not present to contribute to psychiatric injury, thus, defeating the claim of injury of the plaintiff (Austlii, 2017).

Court's Decision

The unanimous decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Western Australia in this case remains a key decision till present date. The decision was delivered by Ipp J where he rejected the appeal of the plaintiff and stated that the defendant did not owe a duty of care towards the plaintiff as the psychiatric injury of the plaintiff was not something which could have been reasonably foreseen, nor was a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. There was an absence of the shock element which could have resulted in a psychiatric injury as there was an absence of abrupt sensory perception, which had to result from the breached duty of care in temporal and physical way. For establishing a case of psychiatric injury, it had to be shown that the plaintiff was so distressful that the psychiatric injury was caused (Allens, 2017).

And on the basis of these points and the arguments raised by the defendant, the Court of Appeals denied the appeal made by the plaintiff. This was because in common parlance, the risk of harm was not foreseeable in a reasonable manner in this case, and allowing a case of psychiatric injury to be made against the defendant, just because the parent lost their child was an unfair thing to do, for the defendant. There was a need to differentiate between a loss of child from an ordinary incident and a shocking incident to make a claim of recognized psychiatric injury. Also, there was a sheer lack of proximity between the plaintiff and defendant where the actions of one could have affected another in sense of time and space. The court also took into consideration that he occurrence of James’s death and the psychiatric injury of the plaintiff was quite far to be blamed upon the duty of care violation. The court requested the plaintiff to accept the passing away of their son and that James’s death was not the fault of the defendant. Ultimately, the appeal of the plaintiff was rejected due to the lack of element of negligence and the lack of duty of care of the defendant towards the plaintiff (Allens, 2017).

The decision was a remarkable one in the view of the writer, due to the fact that the court differentiated from the emotional burden of this case and gave a practical decision where they rightly upheld that the death of James could not have been reasonably foreseen by any of the parties, which even included the plaintiff of this case. No one could have guessed that James would run away and would meet such a horrific end. Had there been some signs where there was even a slight possibility of such happening, the defendant could have been made liable. But, the defendant did everything in his power to ensure James was safe in a general manner and upon a threat on James’s life, he took special efforts to save him. The claim of psychiatric injury was a wrong one as a duty of care was only owed by the defendant to James and not to the plaintiff due to a lack of foreseeability, the lack of proximity and relationship between the two parties. In short, the defendant was rightly ruled in favour by the court, in this case.

References

Abbott, K., Pendlebury, N., and Wardman, K. (2007) Business Law. 8th ed. London: Thomson.

Allens. (2017) 2001 Annual Review of Insurance Law - Duty of Care, General Tortious and Trade Practices Act Liability. [Online] Allens. Available from: https://www.allens.com.au/pubs/ari/2001/care.htm [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Austlii. (2017) Tame v New South Wales [2002] HCA 35; 211 CLR 317; 191 ALR 449; 76 ALJR 1348 (5 September 2002). [Online] Austlii. Available from: https://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/cth/HCA/2002/35.html?stem=0&synonyms=0&query=Annetts%20v%20Australian%20Station [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

E-Law Resources. (2017) Caparo Industries PLC v Dickman [1990] 2 AC 605 House of Lords. [Online] E-Law Resources. Available from: https://www.healthlawcentral.com/cases/tame-v-new-south-wales/ [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Federation Press. (2017) Tame v New South Wales Annetts v Australian Stations Pty Ltd. [Online] Federation Press. Available from: https://www.federationpress.com.au/pdf/Tame%20v%20New%20South%20Wales.pdf [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Gibson, A., and Fraser, D. (2014) Business Law 2014. 8th ed. Melbourne: Pearson Education Australia.

Harvey, B., and Marston, J. (2009) Cases and Commentary on Tort. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Health Law Central. (2017) Tame v New South Wales; Annetts v Australian Stations Pty Limited [2002] HCA 35. [Online] Health Law Central. Available from: https://www.healthlawcentral.com/cases/tame-v-new-south-wales/ [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Jade. (2017) Wyong Shire Council v Shirt. [Online] Jade. Available from: https://jade.io/article/66842 [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Latimer, P. (2012) Australian Business Law 2012. 31st ed. Sydney, NSW: CCH Australia Limited.

Lunney, M., and Oliphant, K. (2013) Tort Law: Text and Materials. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Quizlet. (2017) Torts B Lecture #1-->Pure Psychiatric Harm. [Online] Quizlet. Available from: https://quizlet.com/45679268/torts-b-lecture-1-pure-psychiatric-harm-flash-cards/ [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

Robertson, ‎A., and Tilbury, M. (2016) Divergences in Private Law. Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Sappideen, C., at al. (2009) Torts, Commentary and Materials. 10th ed. Pyrmont: Lawbook Co, pp. 255-63.

Swarb. (2015) Jaensch v Coffey; 20 Aug 1984. [Online] Swarb. Available from: https://swarb.co.uk/jaensch-v-coffey-20-aug-1984/ [Accessed on: 12/09/17]

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