Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Right to life – successful claim against Somerset Partnership Foundation Trust

JC v Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust

Settlement has recently been agreed in a case brought under the Human Rights Act 1998 following the suicide of JC a 21 year old mental health patient in February 2011.

Background

It was alleged that the Mental Health Trust failed to protect JC’s right to life under Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as he posed a real and immediate risk of suicide due to the three attempts he made at taking his own life between January and February 2011. Following his final attempt by hanging on 16 February 2011, JC suffered irreversible brain damage and his family made a decision three days later to discontinue his life support.

JC had been treated on an informal basis in the community (ie, he was never detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983). The Mental Health Trust failed to conduct a face to face assessment of him despite his history of self harm.

The case was brought by JC’s mother who did not qualify for a bereavement award under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (currently £11,800) and he left no dependants. She claimed that damages should be awarded to her in her own right and to her son’s Estate for the Trust’s breach of Article 2 in failing to protect JC’s right to life.

Following protective issue of proceedings in February 2012 (due to the 1 year limitation period for bringing proceedings for damages under the Human Rights Act 1998) and service of a Letter of Claim, the Trust admitted negligence and a breach of Article 2. Negotiations led to an out of court settlement of £20,000. If a claim had been brought in negligence alone for general damages and funeral expenses it would probably have been worth less than £5,000.

The impact of Rabone v. Pennine Care NHS Trust

Prior to February 2012, and the landmark Supreme Court case of Rabone v. Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust [2012] UKSC 2, it was not possible to claim damages alleging breaches of Article 2 following the suicide of informal mental health patients where there was a real and immediate risk of suicide, as the protection only applied to patients detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. As we explained on 8 March 2012 (Informal Mental Health Patients, Suicide and the Right to Life), this position was reversed by the Supreme Court in Rabone, and the settlement in JC is believed to be one of the first cases of its kind following the decision as well as one of the first cases where an NHS Trust has openly admitted that their failings amounted to a breach of a patient’s right to life.

The case was conducted by John Boyle