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Coleman v British Gas Services

16 April 2002
The issues

Nervous shock – carbon monoxide poisoning.

The facts

The Defendants fitted a gas heater at Claimant’s home. Because of the way in which it was fitted, carbon monoxide fumes leaked into the Claimant’s lounge for 8 years until the fault was discovered and made good in 1995. At the time of the leak, both Claimants were psychologically poorly, suffering from anxiety and depression. They became convinced that they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning which made their anxiety worse. The Defendant admitted negligence and breaches of statutory duty, but denied any causative effect. The Claimants alleged firstly that they suffered physical effects from carbon monoxide poisoning over many years and secondly that they suffered psychological injury once the leak had been discovered. Both parts of the claim were rejected by the Judge at first instance. The Claimants appealed to the High Court Judge.

The decision

1. The period of exposure to gas had passed without any actual physical harm to the Claimants.

2. The psychological deterioration was too remote for it to be reasonable to hold the Defendants liable. The Claimants were not primary victims in the sense of Page -v- Smith – it was not reasonably foreseeable that a person of ordinary disposition might suffer psychological illness through learning that his gas fire had been leaking.
Appeal dismissed.

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