Eric is a pupil at The Beeches School. David is the headmaster of the school. For a number of weeks Eric has been subject to severe bullying from Bob, a fellow pupil. David, the headmaster, is aware that the bullying is taking place but takes no steps to remonstrate with, or punish, Bob. Bob continues to bully Eric. Eventually, Eric can take no more and swallows some bleach in an attempt to kill himself. Zelda discovers Eric foaming at the mouth and goes into shock. Sam rings for an ambulance. The ambulance takes one hour to arrive when the normal response time would be twenty minutes. By the time the ambulance arrives Eric is dead. It is determined that had the ambulance arrived twenty minutes after Sam’s call, Eric would probably have died anyway but there was a 20% chance that with proper treatment he would have pulled through. Zelda now suffers from severe depression. Discuss.
Taking each possible claimant in turn –
Claim against Bob for harassment/battery
Bob committed a tort in relation to Eric in bullying him – either the tort of harassment (Protection from Harassment Act 1997) or battery (assuming the bullying consisted in hitting Eric). Eric’s estate will be entitled to sue Bob for damages in respect of the injuries and consequential pain and suffering experienced by Eric as a result of Bob’s bullying before he died.
Claim against David in negligence
David owed Eric a duty to take reasonable steps to see that he would be physically safe at school. So – when he was alerted to the bullying that Eric was being subjected to while at school, David owed Eric a duty to take reasonable steps to stop the bullying happening. David probably breached this duty in failing to do anything to stop the bullying; it is unlikely that, applying the Bolam test, that there is a body of opinion among headteachers that the best way of dealing with bullying is to ignore it. If David did breach the duty of care that he owed Eric in failing to do anything about the bullying Eric was being subjected to, it still has to be established that had David not breached this duty of care, Bob would have stopped bullying Eric. If he would have, then Eric’s estate will be entitled to sue David for compensation for the injuries and pain and suffering that Eric experienced at Bob’s hands after David became aware of the problem. If Bob would have continued bullying Eric whatever David did then Eric’s estate will not be entitled to sue David for damages – while David was negligent in relation to Eric, his negligence did not cause Eric to suffer any loss before he died.
Eric’s parents will want to bring an action for bereavement under the Fatal Accidents Act against Bob, David and the ambulance service.
Claim against Bob
Eric’s parents will probably be able to succeed in bringing an action for bereavement against Bob. To succeed, they would have to show that: (1) Bob committed a tort in relation to Eric in bullying him; (2) Bob’s tort caused Eric to died; and (3) had Eric lived, he would have been entitled to sue Bob for compensatory damages. We have already seen that (1) is made out. It could be argued that (2) is not made out; it could be argued that Eric’s suicide was a voluntary and unreasonable act which had the effect of breaking the chain of causation between Bob’s bullying and Eric’s death. However, it is doubtful whether such an argument would succeed – Eric hardly acted voluntarily in killing himself. Finally, there is no doubt that (3) is made out.
Claim against David
Eric’s parents will also be entitled to bring an action for bereavement against David – so long as it can be shown that David was negligent in failing to deal with Bob’s bullying of Eric and that Bob would no longer have bullied Eric (and therefore Eric would not have killed himself) had David not been negligent.
Claim against the ambulance service
An action for bereavement…