Employer liable for suicide following accident at work
In Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd, the House of Lords held that the employer was liable under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 (the “FAA”) for the suicide of an employee who suffered from severe depression having being seriously injured in a work accident. Suicide was a foreseeable result of the injuries.
Mr Corr was seriously injured by an accident at work for which IBC had been held to be negligent. As a consequence he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, descended into deep depression and showed suicidal tendencies. Six years after the accident, Mr Corr committed suicide and his widow brought a claim against IBC under S.1 of the FAA, which allows dependants of an individual who dies as a result of any wrongful act or negligence of another to bring a claim for damages for the loss of financial support arising from the death.
The High Court rejected Mrs Corr’s claim on the basis that suicide was not foreseeable. But the Court of Appeal overturned the decision as there was an obvious link between the employer’s breach of duty and Mr Corr’s decision commit suicide.
The House of Lords (HOL) upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision. The HOL held that Mr Corr’s suicide was a foreseeable result of the injuries – it was not outside the bounds of what could reasonably have been foreseen. In addition, although his actions were not those which could be described as an informed decision taken by an adult of sound mind, it was not unfair to hold the employer responsible for the dire consequences.
Employers should therefore be alert to the risk of being found liable for any reasonably foreseeable consequences flowing from psychiatric illness, even where it results in suicide. The question of liability is a factual one and rests of the issue of causation. In this case, the answer was easily arrived at it was not disputed that there was no previous history of mental illness and the effective cause of suicide was the severe depression arising as a result of the accident