Can a person recover damages for mental distress caused by a mistaken belief that they have been poisoned? (High Court Appeal).

My clients were subjected to low level carbon monoxide emissions for seven years due to a faulty gas fire installed by the Defendants. At trial the judge decided that there was insufficient evidence to be able to conclude that they had suffered actual physical injury, but it was found that they had suffered significant psychiatric injury caused by a genuine belief that they had been poisoned.

Their belief was triggered some two and a half months after the defective fire was discovered by reading an article from the British Medical Journal which described the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The judge found that they could not recover damages for their mental injury because it had not been caused by the fumes themselves. In so doing the judge distinguished the case from the House of Lords' decision in Page -v- Smith where a road accident victim was entitled to recover damages despite having suffered no physical injury.

[Legal note- since this was a claim issued pre-CPR which had remained untracked, under CPR 52 it proceeded by way of appeal to the High Court, as opposed to the Court of Appeal]

On appeal, the trial judge's basis for distinguishing Page -v- Smith was not followed but an alternative distinction was applied, namely that the test of foreseeability of psychiatric injury in these circumstances was nevertheless a requirement of liability. On the facts this had not been foreseeable and the appeal was therefore dismissed.

Comment- this was a disappointing result and difficult to reconcile with the apparent logic of Page -v- Smith, however, a further appeal was not pursued for various reasons, including proportionality.