Issue 39 October 2021 - Journal - Page 82
High Court finds lack of Evidence Decisive
when Dismissing Psychiatric Injury Claim
The High Court recently provided a valuable decision on the issue of psychiatric
injury, providing an overview of the existing law and principles in this area.
The Claimant stated he had been given several very
challenging objectives and consequently was working
intensively. He claimed that he had experienced some
loss of memory and/or concentration in the course of
his work and exhibited outbursts of temper and the
Defendants were aware of this. The Claimant also alleged that the board and members of senior management were aware he had become overstressed and of
the deterioration in his physical and mental health.
He claimed that prior to his dismissal the Defendants
had clear evidence of his symptoms. He claimed it was
wholly foreseeable that the Defendant’s treatment led
to an exacerbation of his condition and delayed his
Mackenzie v AA Limited and one other  EWHC
The decision followed an application by a Defendant
to obtain summary judgment in respect of an alleged
personal injury claim within the confines of a claim for
The Claimant had assaulted a colleague at a work
away day and after an investigation, was subsequently
dismissed from his job. In response, the Claimant
pursued a claim for wrongful dismissal, alleging the
assault had occurred because he was overworked and
physically and mentally ill.
He claimed that the Defendants were responsible for
his psychiatric injury and sought “Damages for personal
injury resulting from the damage to his health and
wellbeing”. The Defendants submitted that the
Claimant had not disclosed reasonable grounds for
bringing his personal injury claim and made the
The Defendants submitted that the Claimant had not
disclosed reasonable grounds for bringing his personal injury claim and he had no arguable case. He
had provided no medical evidence in respect of any
psychiatric illness or known risk of him suffering that
injury. The Defendants relied upon the fact that the
Claimant was the most senior employee and would
therefore set his own working practices. In addition,
the Claimant had not discussed any psychiatric illness
with his employer before the incident.
The judge found that the Claimant was unable to
prove the Defendants ought to have known he was
suffering from psychiatric conditions and the Defendants were granted summary judgment on that issue.
Deputy Judge Metzer’s judgment outlined the issues
on foreseeability raised in MacLennan v Hartford Europe Limited  by Hickinbottom J, where it was
said the foreseeability threshold is high and may prove
a formidable obstacle on the facts of a particular case.
Hickinbottom J in MacLennan outlined that to be successful a claimant must show that his employer knew
or ought to have known that as a result of stress at
work there was a risk the claimant would suffer harm,
and the claimant must then show that the employer
knew or ought to have known that due to stress at
work there was a risk the claimant would suffer harm
of the kind he in fact suffered.
Additional applications were also made in respect of
other issues forming part of the overall claim for
wrongful dismissal. This article does not consider
those applications as they are not relevant to the issue
of psychiatric injury.
At the time of his dismissal the Claimant suffered from
several physical health conditions. By early/mid 2017,
the Claimant alleged that due to an exceptionally challenging workload, the Claimant had become overstressed, and this had caused his physical and mental
health to deteriorate. The Claimant alleged that the
Defendants were aware of the effect upon his health.
He was therefore unable to exercise full self-control. It
was the Claimant’s case that his medical condition
which led directly to the incident was caused by the
Defendants’ breach of duty as they failed to take
reasonable care for his safety and health.
The judge found it “to be of some significance” that neither party was able to provide details of any authority
where an occupational stress claim had succeeded, absent an express warning.
Further, the Defendants’ treatment of the Claimant
after the incident and his subsequent dismissal exacerbated a deterioration in his mental health and that
the Defendants were responsible for his psychiatric
To succeed with his personal injury claim the Claimant
required a finding that the Defendants’ breach of contract/duty caused his psychiatric condition, and the
burden was upon him to show the Defendants had actual or constructive knowledge of an imminent risk of
psychiatric injury prior to the incident in 2017.
The Claimant referred to Hatton v Sutherland 
in which sixteen principles were outlined relating to
an employer’s potential liability in a psychiatric injury
Deputy Judge Metzer found there was “simply no
evidence” that the Claimant or his doctor provided the
Defendants with “anything to suggest he was suffering
from a psychiatric condition.” According to the
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