Anxiety unrecognisable in law

Younger v Dorset and Somerset Strategic Health Authority (Southampton County Court - 29 March 2006)

Ms Younger was misdiagnosed as suffering from coeliac disease in 1986 and 1988 and was prescribed a gluten-free diet. Once it had been determined that the diagnosis was incorrect, Ms Younger issued proceedings in 2005 for personal injury arising from having to maintain a gluten-free diet, which she argued resulted in psychological harm and damage to her self-esteem.

It was held that the loss claimed by Ms Younger for psychological harm - being less than a recognised psychiatric illness - was not recoverable in law.

Although there were instances where damages for anxiety were recoverable, these were limited to circumstances where the nature of the duty of care included a duty to avoid anxiety. This was not the position in this case, as the defendant's duty was to provide a proper diagnosis and proper treatment.

The balance of Ms Younger's claim was not a claim for personal injury but was for economic loss, and this was barred by the long-stop provision in Section 14B of the Limitation Act 1980 because proceedings were issued more than 15 years after the alleged negligence.

COMMENT: This case illustrates the position regarding non-recovery for unrecognised psychiatric illnesses. Local health authorities - and presumably other forms of medical care providers - are under a duty to provide a proper diagnosis and proper treatment but are not under a duty to avoid anxiety. - Claire Field, BLM London.

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