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Skipper v Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council & Another, Court of Appeal, 15 March 2006

23 March 2006
The issues

Dyslexia – Whether General Damages Could Be Awarded For Frustration, Loss Of Self Confidence And Loss Of Self Esteem

The facts

The Claimant brought a claim against the local authority who had been responsible for her primary school education and against a secondary school, both of which she alleged had failed to identify her dyslexia and take appropriate steps to ameliorate it.

She had left secondary school after taking 9 GCSE’s. Her highest grade was a B.

She had subsequently gone on to a College to take A-Levels. She had applied to join the RAF but had not proceeded with her application. She had completed the first year of a 2 year HND but deferred the second year and took a job as a Senior Sales Assistant in a Computer Games Shop. She claimed damages for loss of confidence and self esteem and for loss of future earnings capacity on the basis that she could and would have achieved better examination results and have been deprived of a chance to follow a professional career. The Judge struck out the claim taking the view that it was impossible to conclude that the Claimant would be able to establish this loss.

The Claimant appealed.

The decision

1. In Phelps views had been expressed that the assessment of damages in cases of this sort was extremely difficult. Lord Slynn said specifically that psychological injury might constitute damage for the purposes of the law. Lord Clyde had agreed and had added his view that the mental and psychological effects of negligent advice might in themselves be able to constitute a proper head of damage.

2. On the basis of the decision in Phelps it was clear as a matter of principle that general damages could be awarded for the consequences of a failure to take appropriate steps to ameliorate dyslexia including frustration, loss of self confidence and loss of self esteem.

3. The distinction between such a claim and the claim for distress and upset which could not find a claim for damages was illusive but Phelps was authority for the proposition that if it could be shown that a Claimant’s disability had a real effect on his or her ability to cope with school and work or had otherwise interfered significantly with his or her enjoyment of life, that that would be a loss of amenity which could properly sound in damages.

4. As to the claim for lost earnings capacity, there had to be considerable speculation involved in it. The extent to which the Claimant’s dyslexia could have been ameliorated would always prove uncertain. There would be evidential difficulties. At this stage the Court was not able to say that the Claimant would be unable to put before a Judge a case which at least establishes that she might have suffered some loss of earnings capacity even though modest. By modest the appropriate figure would be a figure significantly less than in Phelps (which was £25,000.00).

5. The appeal would be allowed but with considerable regret because the case did not justify the expense which was likely to be incurred in taking the matter to Trial. In particular for the Defendants this meant expenditure on litigation of funds which should be applied more constructively. However the rules did not permit the dismissal of a claim merely because of the pursuit of it was disproportionate. It would make use of the summary judgment rule to strike out a claim which had a real prospect of success merely because the issues were complex or difficult and the value of the claim modest. The appeal should be followed by intensely rigorous case management in which every practical step to save expense and ensure expedition and fairness was deployed.

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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