Social worker stabbed by mental patient can sue NHS

Posted: 19th July 2012

NHSA social worker who was stabbed by a mental patient who had earlier threatened to ‘kill her on the spot’ has won the right to sue two NHS trusts after the Court of Appeal ruled it is arguable that they owed her a common law duty of care.

The patient had issued the threat two days before the near-fatal attack on Claire Selwood in 2006 but she was not informed of what he had said.

Ms Selwood is seeking compensation from her employers at the time, Durham County Council, and two NHS trusts which were involved in treating the mental patient prior to the attack.

At a preliminary hearing, a judge struck out Ms Selwood's claim against the trusts, ruling it would not be ‘fair, just and reasonable’ to impose a duty of care upon them in the circumstances.

Overturning that decision at the Court of Appeal, Dame Janet Smith said Ms Selwood was one of a small group of social workers, operating as part of a multi-disciplinary team in close proximity and co-operation with the trusts’ staff.

The judge, sitting with Lords Justice Thorpe and Rimer, said Ms Selwood was ‘in a special position’ and it would be open to the judge who will now hear her damages claim against all three defendants to find that the trusts owed her a duty of care.

Ms Selwood’s lawyers argue that, had she been warned of the threat made by the mental patient, she would have taken steps to protect herself.

The trusts submit that, as the mental patient was not compulsorily detained and Ms Selwood was not employed by them, they cannot be held legally responsible for the attack. They also argue that it was not reasonably foreseeable that Ms Selwood was under an immediate threat of violence.

The Court of Appeal’s ruling means that Ms Selwood’s case against the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, the Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and Durham County Council will now go ahead to a full hearing on all issues.