House of Lords reaches a decision on work related suicides

United Kingdom

The House of Lords has made a landmark ruling regarding employers liability in suicide cases, by ruling that the widow of a man who killed himself six years after an accident in the workplace should be compensated by his former employers.

In 1996, Thomas Corr suffered serious head injury after being hit on the head by a metal panel as a result of defective machinery. Consequently, Mr Corr underwent long and painful reconstructive surgery. He remained disfigured, suffered persistently from unsteadiness, severe headaches, and had difficulty sleeping. He experienced severe flashbacks and suffered from nightmares. He drank more alcohol than before the accident and became bad-tempered. In May 2002, Mr Corr committed suicide by jumping from a multi-story car park.

In April 2005, Mr Corr’s widow went to the High Court to sue his former employer for pain, suffering and loss caused by the industrial accident and subsequent suicide. His employer, IBC Vehicles, admitted liability for the workplace accident, but denied responsibility for the suicide. The High Court awarded the widow £82,250 after finding IBC could not be held accountable for Mr Corr taking his own life. That decision was overturned in the Court of Appeal, which found that the employers could be held liable for the suicide. IBC then appealed to the House of Lords which, on 27 February, confirmed that the company was liable for Mr Corr’s suicide.

Mr Corr’s illness was deemed to be a direct result of his employer’s negligence: the employer owed Mr Corr a duty of care, and the breach of that duty caused him injury, both physical and psychological. The Law Lords emphasise that medical knowledge is such that it is now understood that suicide can be an involuntary act if the person involved is depressed, as was the case with Mr Corr.

The Lords comment that:

It is in no way unfair to hold the employer responsible for this dire consequence of its breach of duty, although it could well be thought unfair to the victim, not to do so.”