Wong v Parkside Health NHS Trust [2001] EWCA Civ 1721

Assault – Damage – Harassment – Intention – Psychiatric harm

Facts

Minna Wong (W) was employed as a wheelchair administrator by NHS Trust. In this employment, she suffered harassment from her colleagues which resulted in physical and psychiatric harm to W. In 1995 W was successful in prosecuting M, one of the employees, for assault. In 1998 W raised an action against the trust for negligence on the basis of its vicariously liability for the torts of its employees, and against M for intentionally causing harm to W due to M’s harassment. The claim against M was unsuccessful, and W appealed.

Issue

The issues in question were (1) the scope of the tort of intentionally causing harm under the principle in Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57 that the behaviour was likely to result in harm that and could impute an intention of harm; and (2) whether there was a tort of harassment at common law before the enactment of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (1997 Act).

Held

Under the double jeopardy rule, M’s assault against W was excluded from consideration under section 45 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. As a result, all that could be considered were W's allegations that M had been rude and unfriendly, yet the tort of intentionally inflicting harm required proof of actual physical harm or psychiatric illness. Therefore, in line with Wilkinson v Downton, an intention to cause harm could not be imputed in the present case. Nor could W succeed on the second issue, as there was no tort of intentional harassment at common law before the 1997 Act. The appeal was dismissed.