0370 270 6000

already registered?

Please sign in with your existing account details.

need to register?

Register to access exclusive content, sign up to receive our updates and personalise your experience on brownejacobson.com.

Privacy statement - Terms and conditions

Simpson v Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Trust, Court of Appeal, 12 October 2011

20 October 2011
The issues

Assignment of personal injury claim – whether possible.

The facts

Alan Catchpole was treated at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in 2005 and 2006. It was alleged that in the course of that treatment he developed an infection known as MRSA because of the hospital’s failure to exercise proper infection control. In January 2009 he began proceedings against the hospital. The claimant was the widow of John Simpson who contracted MRSA on an earlier occasion at the same hospital and who died of cancer unconnected with the MRSA. Mrs Simpson alleged that the infection made Mr Simpson’s last days more difficult than would otherwise have been the case and she brought an action as his personal representative against the hospital claiming damages for personal injury. That claim was settled without an admission of liability. She felt strongly however that the hospital had failed to implement what she considered to be proper infection control procedures and wished to force the hospital to confront its shortcomings.

In May 2009 Mr Catchpole and Mrs Simpson entered into a deed of assignment by which Mr Catchpole purported to assign his claim against the hospital to Mrs Simpson for £1. Mrs Simpson thereafter pursued the proceedings in her own name and for her own benefit and the claim form was amended to increase the amount claimed from £5,000 to £15,000. The hospital applied to strike out the claim. The District Judge allowed their application. The matter was appealed to the judge who found that the assignment was void because the claim was of a personal nature and incapable of assignment, but that even if it were capable of assignment, Mrs Simpson did not have an interest of a sufficient kind to support a valid assignment. The matter was further appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The decision

A right to recover damages for personal injury, even where no compensation for loss of earnings was claimed, was a legal thing in action and a species of property. This was the view of the court in Ord v Upton [2000] in which the court was asked to consider whether a claim for personal injury could vest in a trustee in bankruptcy. The court came to the view that there was a distinction between damages in respect of compensation to damage to his body as opposed to other kinds of loss. In respect of both claims for pain and suffering and claims in respect of loss of earnings, both would vest in the trustee, but the trustee would be obliged to hold damages recovered in respect of pain and suffering on trust for the bankrupt since it remains his property. The decision did not therefore support the view that a claim for personal injuries was inherently incapable of assignment.

The judge was to say that right an unnatural personal chose in action was not capable of assignment but wrong however to find that the claim was personal, since the obligation to pay compensation arose by action of law and not personal in the sense that it depended on the identity of the claimant. This was the case notwithstanding that there would be undoubted procedural difficulties if this were so relating to the provision of statements of truth, disclosure, set off and counterclaim. They did not themselves however provide ground for holding that a choses in action of this kind was incapable of being assigned. For this reason the judge was wrong to strike out the claim on the grounds that the claim was personal and incapable of being assigned.

There was however plenty of authority to support the view that before 1873, the assignment of a bare right of action would not be enforced in equity because it would undermine the law relating to maintenance and champerty. It was clear from the decision in Trendex Trading Corporation v Credit Suisse [1982], a decision of the House of Lords, that the law would not recognise on the grounds of public policy an assignment of a bare right to litigate unsupported by an interest of a kind that was sufficient to justify the assignee’s pursuit of proceedings for his own benefit. There had to be some legitimate interest in the litigation in order to prevent the assignee’s involvement from amounting to “wanton and officious into meddling with the disputes of others”. Despite the honourable motives that Mrs Simpson had, she did not have an interest in Mr Catchpole’s claim of the kind that the law should or did recognise as sufficient to support an assignment of what otherwise would be a bare right of action.

Reliance had been placed on the case of Holdon v Thompson [1902], a case in which an interest of a religious rather than commercial nature was held to be sufficient to justify maintenance. That was a very different case from the present case because it involved the provision of financial support by way of charity to poor persons seeking to uphold religious convictions which the Defendant shared and was expressly based on an exception to the general law of maintenance in respect of charitable support.

Mrs Simpson’s interest was to pursue a campaign against the hospital. It would be damaging to the administration of justice for the law to recognise an interest of that kind as sufficient because the conduct of the proceedings, including aspects such as a willingness to resort to mediation and a readiness to compromise, would be entirely in the hands of the assignee and would be liable to be distorted by considerations that had little if anything to do with the merits of the claim themselves.

Appeal dismissed.

focus on...

Legal updates

Non-payment of insurance premiums during the Coronavirus pandemic

The forced closure of many businesses as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Recent reports from the Office for National Statistics state that the economy was 25% smaller in April than it was in February this year.


Legal updates

Noise-induced hearing loss claims – documentation and the expert engineer

Guest writer, Finch Consulting Senior Consultant Teli Chinelis applies his expertise in preparing engineering reports in relation to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) claims to explain information that is required from the claimant and information that is required and is advisable to be retained by employers, in order to ensure that claims can be fairly represented.


Legal updates

Contingent loss in negligence claims

Contingent loss is relevant to limitation; specifically, the date at which a claimant’s cause of action accrues for the purposes of a claim in the tort of negligence (as many claims against professional advisers are framed).


Legal updates

Legal and regulatory monthly update - September 2019

The latest update covering delegated authority, insurance product development, the senior insurance managers regime, data protection, operational control frameworks, Lloyds market, and horizon scanning.


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.

mailing list sign up

Select which mailings you would like to receive from us.

Sign up