30 08 2017 Insights Litigation & Dispute Resolution

Damages for ‘Stress and Worry’ in a professional negligence claim?

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By Jennifer Noctor
07 February, 2017

In a Judgement handed down on 2 February last in the case of Martin Murray v Budds, Hanahoe and Michael E. Hanahoe Solicitors [2017] IESC 4, the Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal and re-affirmed the principles in Addis v Gramaphone Co. Ltd [1909] AC 488 that a claim for ‘stress and worry’ is irrecoverable in a breach of contract/ professional negligence action.

Following his conviction in 1999 for possession and intent to sell heroin, Mr. Murray appealed his conviction on grounds of alleged failure of his solicitors to adequately prepare his defence. That appeal was rejected. Following his release from prison in 2005, Mr. Murray issued proceedings against his solicitor for breach of contract and negligence in preparing his defence and then sought to amend his pleadings to include a claim for damages for worry and stress on the grounds that his solicitor had not instructed and briefed a senior counsel until the night before his hearing.

The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal to the Supreme Court to determine whether Mr. Murray’s claim as amended for stress and worry was in fact a personal injuries claim and if not, whether it was recoverable in an action for breach of contract or professional negligence.

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In her Judgment, Chief Justice Denham stated that if the claim for stress and worry was a personal injury claim, it was statute barred given the two year limitation period which attaches to such claims. In any event she stated, the loss and damage claimed did not amount to a recognised psychiatric injury and thus was not recoverable in a personal injury claim.

In relation to breach of contract, the Supreme Court relied on the principles set out in Addis v Gramaphone Co. Ltd [1909] AC 488 in which it was held that the Courts would not, in general, permit damages for worry or upset as a consequence of a breach of contract. The Supreme held that there was no exceptional reason to depart from this.

The policy underpinning this position was outlined in Baltic Shipping v Dixon [1993] 176 CLR 344, where it was stated that there is an apprehension that the recovery of compensation for injured feelings would lead to inflated awards of damages in contract cases.

The Supreme Court ruled that insofar as there was a breach of contract, it was for professional services. The Plaintiff had been represented by Solicitor and Counsel through the State Legal Aid Scheme and there was no breach of professional standards.

The Supreme Court further held that there was “no stand-alone right of claim for being upset” and the appeal was therefore dismissed.

The decision is a positive affirmation of the law from Insurers perspective as it strongly rebuts any basis for a standalone claim for stress and worry and upholds the law in Addis.

While every case in professional negligence is dependent on its own facts, this is a welcome judgement in terms of stress and worry being irrecoverable in tort and subject to very limited exceptions in a breach of contract.

For more information on the content of the Insight contact:
Jennifer Noctor, Solicitor, jennifer.noctor@rdj.ie

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