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Robinson v St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council, Court of Appeal, 25 July 2002

31 July 2002
The issues

Limitation – dyslexia – whether claim won for economic loss or personal injuries.

The facts

The Claimant attended Primary School between 1972 and 1978 and High School from 1978 to 1983. He made slow progress in reading and writing at High School, although gained 4 GCSE’s. In 1992, he was diagnosed as suffering from severe dyslexia. He took a Second Class Degree. On 1st November 2000, the Claimant issued against the Local Education Authority, alleging failure to diagnose dyslexia and provide him with appropriate education. The Claim Form referred to a claim for personal injuries. The Particulars of Case did not. No claim was made for physical or psychiatric injury, but a claim was made for the costs of tuition and loss of earnings. The matter came before the Judge on a preliminary limitation issue. The Judge found that the claim was not one for personal injuries and that a 6 year statutory limitation period applied (expiring in 1991, 6 years after the Claimant reached his majority). The Judge also found that if the claim was one for personal injuries, then the Claimant’s date of knowledge was November 1992, when he knew of his diagnosis as suffering from dyslexia. Under those circumstances, the Judge refused in any event to exercise his discretion under Section 33. The Claimant appealed.

The decision

1. Although the emotional and psychological damage which resulted from a failure to appropriately teach and ameliorate the congenital condition of Dyslexia, fell short of psychiatric injury in the recognised form, it was a personal injury.

2. The Claimant knew as soon as he received the report in 1992 that he was dyslexic and the Judge was right to find that the Claimant’s date of knowledge was on or shortly after the receipt of that report. The Judge was wrong to find that foreseeable psychological harm caused to a dyslexic Claimant following a negligent mis-diagnosis, could not amount to a personal injury unless it developed into a recognisable psychiatric illness.

3. In such cases Claimants’ Advisors should do more to identify the psychological or emotional harm their client suffered in order to assist the Court in identifying the psychological harm on which they relied for the case to be brought within the specialist regime for personal injury litigation.

Comments

This is an intriguing clarification of an issue, which although the Court of Appeal purported to follow Phelps, was never very clearly dealt with in Phelps. It would appear also to be an interesting extension of the law with regard to the right to claim for psychiatric injury.

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