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A collaboration between Rebmark Legal Solutions and 1 Chancery Lane

When witnessing building work causes back pain.... Foreseeability and the tort of harassment

Ms Jones and Ms Lovegrove clearly had a very unpleasant few years living with the extensive and, for much of the time unauthorised, building works carried out by their neighbours, Mr and Mrs Ruth.  At trial the judge found in their favour in a claim brought against the Ruths in nuisance, trespass and harassment, awarding them a substantial sum in damages.  It was also contended on Ms Jones's behalf that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 allowed the judge to make not only an award for anxiety caused by the harassment but also a separate award of damages for personal injury.  The judge was not prepared to go as far as awarding Ms Jones damages for personal injury on the basis that her psychological injury and somataform back pain had been brought on by the Defendants' conduct.  The judge held that foreseeability of injury was a necessary ingredient of a claim for statutory harassment and the personal injury claim failed on this point.
The Court of Appeal in Jones v Ruth [2011] EWCA Civ 804 disagreed.  Patten LJ (with whom the rest of the Court agreed) said:
"I am not persuaded that foreseeability of the injury or loss sustained by a claimant in a case of harassment is an essential element in the cause of action. The obvious startingpoint is the 1997 Act itself.  Conduct of the kind described in s.1 is actionable unders.3 in respect of anxiety or injury caused by the harassment and any financial lossresulting from the harassment.  There is nothing in the statutory language to import anadditional requirement of foreseeability.  Nor is the foreseeability of damage the gist of the tort.  Section 1 is concerned with deliberate conduct of a kind which the defendant knows or ought to know will amount to harassment of the claimant.  Once that is proved the defendant is responsible in damages for the injury and loss which flow from that conduct.  There is nothing in the nature of the cause of action which calls for further qualification in order to give effect to the obvious policy objectives of the statute."
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