Claiming compensation for stress and inconvenience

Is it worth all the stress? Claiming compensation for stress and inconvenience in a professional negligence case

Ask any professional negligence lawyer what their FAQs are and undoubtedly queries about stress and inconvenience will be high on that list. But under English law, can someone actually recover compensation for stress caused by the conduct of a negligent professional?

Victims of professional negligence are frequently surprised to learn that legal claims for compensation for stress and inconvenience stemming from negligence are uncommon. The reason for this is that the courts have been reluctant to allow such claims for public policy reasons.

In one famous ruling a judge stated:

“A contract-breaker is not in general liable for any distress, frustration, anxiety, displeasure, vexation, tension or aggravation which his breach of contract may cause to the innocent party. This rule is not, I think, founded on the assumption that such reactions are not foreseeable, which they surely are or may be, but on considerations of policy.”

However, the bar to claims for stress and inconvenience is not absolute. If the main reason to use the services of the professional was to obtain ‘pleasure, relaxation, peace of mind or freedom from molestation’ then compensation can be awarded.

This concept of ‘pleasure, relaxation, peace of mind or freedom from molestation’ was reinforced in the case of Farley v Skinner. In this case the claimant had instructed a surveyor to complete a report on the property he was looking to purchase. The claimant put in an extra request for the surveyor to report on the effect of aircraft noise from the nearby airport (London Heathrow). The surveyor reported that while he could not guarantee zero effect, the property was not subject to aircraft disturbance frequently and was not on any flight path. However, he did not identify that the property was only a few kilometres from a stacking beacon and that at busy times planes waiting to land circled almost directly above the claimant’s home. The Judge ruled that in that case the claim was exceptional and that compensation for stress and inconvenience could be awarded..

In a recent case Shaw v Leigh Day, the question of stress and inconvenience was considered in relation to a solicitor’s negligence case. In this matter the solicitor had been instructed to represent the clients at an inquest into a relative’s death. The Court ruled that the level of emotion involved was high and unique making this different from other legal processes. If a solicitor is retained to put evidence before the coroner and jury but fails to carry out their job with sufficient diligence, the client would never receive the comfort they required. So again this case was deemed as falling within the exceptional circumstances range, where compensation could be awarded.

In general therefore while claims for stress and inconvenience are not common, they can can be pursued in limited circumstances. In most cases such claims are made in conjunction with claims for more conventional financial loss arising from the negligence, so they form one element of a larger claim.

If you are interested in claiming compensation for stress and inconvenience in a professional negligence case and believe that it falls within the exceptional circumstances highlighted then give us a call on 0808 139 1595 or email us at [email protected]

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