Criminal blames rail firm

Gray v Thames Trains and Network Rail Infrastructure (Queen's Bench Division - 6 July 2007)

The claimant was a victim of the Ladbroke Grove rail crash. He suffered relatively minor physical injuries, but the accident had a major psychological impact upon him, in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Almost two years after accident, the claimant stabbed a stranger to death. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was ordered to be detained under s37 of the Mental Health Act (1983) at Runwell Hospital in Essex.

The claimant claimed damages in negligence; the majority for loss of earnings since the manslaughter and future loss of earnings. The defendants admitted negligence but denied liability at least for the post-manslaughter losses. They based their defence upon public policy, in particular the principle 'ex turpi causa non oritur actio' doctrine, which states that criminals must never benefit from their illegal behaviour.

Mr Justice Flaux contended that the claimant had to rely on the manslaughter to avoid breaking the chain of causation for his losses. It was held that the claimant was responsible for his actions, and thus the court would not allow recovery of damages based upon criminal offences. The claimant could not recover losses for the period after the manslaughter.

COMMENT

In this case the court reasserted the position that damages will not be awarded where a claim relies upon an criminal offence, but stated that ex turpi causa ought not to depend upon a pleading point. The principle is one which the court may invoke of its own motion, even if a defendant does not raise it. Rebekah Walker, BLM Manchester.

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