The Price of Harassment - Damages Awarded for Personal Injury
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In the case of Jones v Ruth  EWCA Civ 804 the claimants, Ms Jones and Ms Lovegrove, brought an action against their neighbours, Mr and Mrs Ruth (the defendants). The claim arose following extensive building work undertaken by the defendants which commenced in May 2002. The work which should have been completed within a year continued over four years, causing the claimants serious loss of amenity in the enjoyment of their property.
The claimants' lives were disrupted by the"excessive and persistent noise and vibration" caused by the defendantsâ€™ building work which amounted to the tort of nuisance. Furthermore, the defendants were found to have trespassed on the claimants' garden by the erection of scaffolding; damaged the claimants' boundary wall; thrown rubbish into the claimants' garden; and engaged in other anti-social behaviour amounting to harassment. One of the claimants, Ms Jones, suffered from severe back pain brought on by the anxiety and depression caused by the defendants' behaviour. As a result she had not been able to work since April 2005 and required cognitive behavioural therapy, physiotherapy and counselling to recover.
The claimants commenced proceedings against the defendants in February 2008 claiming damages for nuisance and trespass caused to their property. In addition, and unusually, a claim was brought against the defendants for personal injury and financial loss caused by negligence and harassment contrary to section 1 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1977.
The first instance decision
The case was initially heard in the Technology and Construction Court before His Honour Judge Wilcox in April 2010. The judge was satisfied that trespass and nuisance had occurred and awarded the claimants Â£30,000 for loss of amenity and enjoyment and Â£45,000 in lieu of an injunction for the ongoing trespass. While a further Â£6,000 was awarded for harassment, the claim for personal injury and financial loss caused by the harassment was refused on the basis that these matters were not reasonably foreseeable.
The issue before the Court of Appeal
The claimants challenged Judge Wilcox's failure to award them damages for personal injury in consequence of the harassment. A cross appeal was also issued by the defendants against the judge's award of Â£45,000.The main issue before the Court of Appeal was whether it was necessary for the injury or loss arising out of the harassment to be reasonably foreseeable.
The Court considered the Protection from Harassment Act 1977. Under section 1 of the Act, it is unlawful for a person to pursue a course of conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which he knows or should know amounts to harassment. Harassment was defined in the judgment as "the persistent tormenting or irritation of the victim" which is deliberate and of which the "perpetrator either knows or certainly ought reasonably to be aware has this effect on the complainant."
Further reference was made to section 3 of the 1977 Act, which provides that:
1. an actual or apprehended breach of section 1 may be the subject of a claim in civil proceedings by the person who is or may be the victim of the course of conduct in question
2. on such a claim, damages may be awarded for (among other things) any anxiety caused by the harassment and any financial loss resulting from the harassment.
In handing down the leading judgment in this case, Lord Justice Patten was of the view that there was "nothing in the statutory language to import an additional requirement of foreseeability" in respect of a personal injury arising out of harassment.
The appeal was allowed and the claimant was awarded Â£28,750 for general damages and further Â£115,000 for loss of earnings.
The cross-appeal was partly allowed and the Â£45,000 award was reduced to Â£15,000.
The most striking implications of this case relate to the Court's findings on harassment and particularly foreseeability.
A person may be liable for any anxiety, personal injury and/or financial loss caused by harassment. The correct test will be
1. did the conduct of the building work amount to harassment?
2. was it deliberate?
3. was the defendant aware of the effect his behaviour had on the complainant or should he have been aware of it? and
4. was personal injury consequent upon that behaviour?
If these requirements are satisfied, there is no need for the personal injury to have been reasonably foreseeable.
For further information please contact Alison McClure, Partner in our Personal Injury team in Southampton and head of our Litigation and Dispute Resolution department, on 023 8085 7345 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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