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Fighting (2)

In Young v Charles Church (Southern) Ltd. [1997] the Plaintiff was a self-employed labourer on a building site. He handed a long metal scaffolding pole to a Mr. Cook. He was turning away from Mr. Cook when Mr. Cook was fatally electrocuted as the pole touched an overhead wire. The Plaintiff suffered a mental illness as a consequence of the event.

In the course of the proceedings issued on his behalf,his solicitors received a letter from the Defendants’ solicitors saying;

“For the purpose of these proceedings and for no other, we confirm that the issue of liability for this accident will not be in dispute. For the avoidance of any doubt please note it will still be the Defendants contention that your client does not come within the class of persons entitled to make a claim for nervous shock and the issues of causation and quantum remain live”.

In those two sentences the Defendants at once admitted liability and denied liability.

By agreement, the issue of liability was tried as a preliminary issue. (When this happens it is only on the basis that the facts are agreed between the parties.) The trial judge found against the Plaintiff, who then appealed to the Court of Appeal, where he was successful.

For the Plaintiff, “fighting” did not require him to give evidence; the case was run purely on legal arguments. Although the judgment of the three-judge Court of Appeal was unanimous in his favour, the legal arguments were sufficiently cogent to defeat him in first instance (and to have attracted the Defendants’ lawyers to the course of action they took, in the first instance). (Not that the opinions of the lawyers of an opponent should be determinative of a Plaintiff’s actions).

(To read the judgments in Young, click on the name of the case at the top of this post).