Assessing damages in dependency claims - how much will Courts allow?
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One of the most common concerns for anyone pursuing a claim for breach of contract or a tortious act is the amount of damages to be awarded and whether such amount will be sufficient to compensate for the loss suffered. The case of Batt v Highgate Private Hospital  EWHC 707 (Ch) makes for interesting reading and serves to highlight the approach which judges are likely to take when assessing damages in dependency claims.
In this case the claimant's wife, Mrs Batt, underwent cosmetic surgery commonly referred to as "a tummy tuck". She contracted with the London Cavendish Clinic (International) Limited, and there was a further sub-contracting of part of the operation to the surgeon. Due to the clinical negligence of the surgeon, Mrs Batt died following the operation.
One of the most significant issues before the High Court in this case was whether the claimant, Mr Batt, could recover damages in respect of the cost of the cosmetic surgery which resulted in his wife's death. Clearly, Mrs Batt did not receive the benefit of the operation. Nevertheless, considering the claim for the medical expenses both in contract and in tort, the High Court disallowed it.
As noted above, in the case of Mrs Batt, there were no direct contractual obligations between her and the surgeon. Thus, the medical expenses, a claim for which would normally be allowed when there is a direct contract between the parties, could not be recovered in this case.
The claim for the medical expenses was further considered in tort. In order for expenses to be recoverable in tort, they need to arise directly from the defendant's negligence. In this case the cost of the operation did not flow from the defendant's negligence but rather from Mrs Batt's contractual promise to pay the hospital for undertaking this surgical procedure. For this reason even though the medical expenses were rendered futile by the tort of the surgeon, they could not be recovered by the claimant.
This case is a reminder of the inherent difficulties in assessing damages in respect of a dependency claim and the extent to which expenses rendered futile by a tort can be recovered.
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