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Adams v Bracknell Forest Borough Council, House of Lords, 17 June 2004

23 June 2004
The issues

Limitation – Dyslexia

The facts

The Claimant had a claim for damages in respect of a failure of the Local Education Authority to provide appropriate education in respect of schools he had attended between 1977 and 1988. The Claimant alleged he had severe dyslexia. Proceedings were issued on the 25th June 2002. The Defendant pleaded limitation. The matter came before the Judge on a preliminary issue.

The Defendant argued that he had not been aware of his condition until 1999, when he had spoken on a social occasion to someone who was an Educational Psychologist. After that, he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia.

The Judge found that the Claimant had been taught at school as a normal child and that he had always managed to conceal his learning problems. He found that the Claimant knew that he suffered from the effects of his problems with reading and writing, but that he did not know whose fault it was until 1999. He found that a reasonable person with undiagnosed dyslexia could not reasonably be expected to seek help for the problems suffered or to conclude himself why he was suffering from them. The Judge therefore found in favour of the Claimant on the issue of date of knowledge.

The Defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal which dismissed the Appeal. The Defendant appealed further to the House of Lords.

The decision

1. In Robinson v St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council the Court of Appeal had referred to dyslexia as “an impairment of a person’s mental condition” and had proceeded on the basis that negligent failure to ameliorate the consequences of dyslexia by appropriate teaching might be said to continue the injury. This was correct. Treating the inability to improve a person’s ability to read and write as an untreated injury originally proceeding from other causes produced a sensible, practical result.

2. As to the issue of the date of knowledge, the Judge had found that Mr Adams had acted reasonably making no enquiry into the reasons for his literary problems. This finding was not based upon matters of character or the intelligence of Mr Adams. If a Judge had been relying on Mr Adams own characteristics he might have been hard put to explain why Mr Adams had been able to confide in a lady he met at a dancing party but not in his doctor. The Judge’s findings as to the generally inhibiting effect of untreated dyslexia were based on judicial notice. There was no such basis for such a finding in the expert evidence. If one could assume that a person was likely to be unable to speak about a matter to his doctor, evidence would be needed and such evidence was entirely lacking. There was no reason why the normal expectation that a person suffering from a significant injury would be curious about his origins should not apply to dyslexics. The date of constructive knowledge was therefore well before the issue of the writ.

3. The Court of Appeal had indicated that had they found it necessary to apply Section 33 it was most unlikely that it would have allowed the claim to proceed. The Court of Appeal had affirmed that under Section 33 the onus was on the Claimant to establish that it would be equitable to allow the claim to proceed having regard to the balance of prejudice. It had gone on to say that the question of proportionality was now important in the exercise of any discretion and particularly so under Section 33 – that Courts should be slow to exercise their discretion in favour of a Claimant in the absence of cogent medical evidence showing a serious effect on the Claimant’s health and enjoyment of life and employability; that the likely amount of the award was an important factor to consider; and that allowing a claim for dyslexia to proceed brought long after the expiry of the limitation period would place the Defendants in great difficulty in contesting it and that it would be very expensive to do so and likely to divert precious resources.

This was the view of Judges of considerable experience. The Council in this case were in a very difficult position. The award would be likely to be relatively modest. There were no special features about the reasons why Mr Adams left his claim so late. The discretion would not therefore be exercised.

Appeal allowed.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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