Claimant succeeds at the Court of Appeal in a claim following sexual abuse by a former teacher
In London Borough of Haringey v FZO (2020), the Court disapplied s33 of the Limitation Act 1980 allowing the Claimant to succeed in his claim for personal injury arising from historic allegations of sexual abuse. On appeal, the Court of Appeal dismissed the Second Defendant’s appeal
The Claimant, a former pupil, was sexually abused by a teacher who was employed by the Second Defendant local authority. The First Defendant (the teacher) was subsequently sentenced to 12 years imprisonment which was later reduced to 8 years.
Proceedings were brought against the Second Defendant on the basis that it was vicariously liable for the First Defendant’s actions. The claim, however, was brought between 25 and 30 years after the expiry of the primary limitation period (generally 3 years from the negligent act(s)).
The judge found that the correct approach was for the court, in resolving whether to disapply the limitation period, to adopt an overall assessment of the evidence, which included weighing up any adverse findings made against the claimant, and the effect of such delay on the same. Judgment of over £1m was made in the Claimant’s favour. Part of the award related to a period of time when the claimant had left the school but had been still seeing the first defendant.
On appeal a number of issues were raised which included whether (1) the judge had misdirected herself to the proper application of s33 of the Limitation Act, (2) whether it had been wrong in failing to find that there had been a significant prejudice to the Second Defendant arising as a result of failing to bring the claim earlier and; (3) whether the judge had been wrong in law to have concluded that the Claimant had not consent to some of the sexual activity with the First Defendant, (4) whether it had been wrong to hold the Second Defendant vicariously liable and (5) whether the judge’s findings on diagnosis and causation were not properly supported by evidence.
On issue (1) the difference in evidence between the Claimant and First Defendant were not the only issues to be considered. The Court of Appeal found that the Judge had considered other factors including the impact of the delay on the ability of the experts to deal with the medical issues of diagnosis and causation, including difficulties arising from alleged inconsistencies in the claimant's account. She had considered the conduct of the parties and the extent to which the claimant had acted promptly and reasonably once he appreciated the potential claim.
On issue (2) it was noted that the Trial Judge had difficulties due to missing records and a disagreement between the experts. However, it was found that in the absence of an error or logical flaw in the evidence, it was not right to second guess the Judge’s decision.
On issue (3) it was found that the claimant's consent had not genuine in that it had been overridden by psychological coercion, derived from the grooming and abuse during the period at the school. As per issue (2), the Court of Appeal could not second guess the Judge’s assessment of both the detailed and factual expert evidence.
On issue (4), it was found that the control and manipulation of the claimant (grooming), had begun during the first defendant's employment by the second defendant and had continued to be operative upon the claimant. That had rendered his participation in subsequent sexual activity merely submissive rather than consensual. That situation had been caused by what had happened when the relevant relationship had satisfied the second criterion for vicarious liability.
And finally, on issue (5), the Judge had been entitled to prefer the evidence of one expert over another.
Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.
“Claims for arising from historic physical, emotional and sexual abuse are very complex and input from specialist solicitors is required to ensure that the Claimant receives the compensation that they deserve. If you, or anyone you know, has been the victim of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, contact Biscoes Solicitors for a free consultation and advice. We are able to pursue claims on a no win no fee basis.”
Contact our specialist personal injury, medical negligence and industrial disease solicitors on 0800 413 463 or visit www.biscoes-law.co.uk for more information. You can also follow us on twitter using the handle @biscoesmedneg