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Today’s Court of Appeal judgment in Liverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne  EWCA Civ 588 is an early front runner for the most important tort law case of 2015. It is very good news for hard-pressed NHS Trusts defending claims by relatives shocked by the effect on loved-ones of acts of clinical negligence. Such claims will rarely succeed in the light of today’s decision.
Mr Ronayne sustained a psychiatric injury from the shock of his seriously ill wife’s appearance in hospital. She had undergone a hysterectomy and a few days after discharge she became unwell and was admitted to A&E. It was later discovered that a misplaced suture in her colon had caused complications. Shortly before she underwent emergency surgery for septicaemia Mr Ronayne saw his wife connected to various machines including drips and monitors. After surgery he saw her unconscious, connected to a ventilator and being administered four types of antibiotic intravenously. Her arms, legs and face were very swollen. He described his shock at her looking like ‘the Michelin Man’.
The key points from today’s Court of Appeal judgment, overturning the award of compensation to Mr Ronayne made by the experienced injury and clinical negligence specialist trial judge, HHJ Gore QC, are:
Today’s decision refines, and arguably renders more strict, the control mechanisms for secondary victim claims which were shaped by the seminal House of Lords decisions arising out of the Hillsborough disaster, particularly Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police  1 AC 310.
This latest appeal builds on the series of reported cases since December 2014. Prior to the 2013 Court of Appeal decision in Taylor v Novo, it was very difficult to reconcile the various decisions in the years since the seminal Hillsborough cases. There has been a much more consistent thread of principle through the decisions since Taylor v Novo. They all highlight the strictness of the control mechanisms and the difficulties for Claimants in establishing such claims. Indeed, the author is not aware of any reported secondary victim claim which has succeeded since the Court of Appeal clarified the law in Taylor v Novo in 2013, a decision which itself overturned a trial judge’s award of compensation in such a case.
Charles Bagot, specialist injury and clinical negligence practitioner, was Counsel for the successful parties in the key secondary victim cases of Taylor v Novo  QB 150; Wild v Southend University Hospital NHS Trust  EWHC 4053; and Berisha v Stone Superstore  LTL 18/12/2014.
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