Dundee schoolteacher fails to prove mental health deterioration from being hit by wooden partition

A secondary school teacher who was hit on the head by a wooden partition while teaching at a school in Dundee has failed to prove before the Outer House of the Court of Session that his mental health deteriorated as a result of the accident.

Fenrir Thorvaldsen claimed that the accident had left him with debilitating headaches and exacerbated previously existing mental health problems to the point of suffering from a recurrent depressive disorder. His claims were contested by his employer, Dundee City Council, which admitted liability but argued that the pursuer’s symptoms were limited to a concussive head injury that resolved itself within weeks of the accident.

The case was heard by Lord Harrower. Galbraith QC appeared for the pursuer and J Nicholson, advocate, for the defender.

Cleared in 7 weeks

The pursuer had been employed by the defenders as a teacher since October 2000. On 22 August 2017, while he was in the classroom at Craigie High School in Dundee, the pursuer was struck on the head by a wooden partition. The blow knocked him to the floor and rendered him unconscious for five to 10 seconds. He subsequently raised an action for damages against the defenders, who admitted liability in respect of the incident but contested the pursuer’s claims for wage loss.

The pursuer claimed to have suffered a concussive head injury, followed by dizziness and confusion, debilitating headaches, and ultimately an exacerbation of his poor mental health in the form of a recurrent depressive disorder and a somatic symptom disorder, which continued into 2018. Prior to the accident, the pursuer had been seen by his GP in connection with depression and persistent headaches and had been referred to a number of specialists.

In support of his case, he led evidence from himself as well as his then-partner, Ewa Bieniecka, and his GP, Dr Kennedy. He stated that following the accident he had found it more difficult to do his job as well as manage various charitable commitments and was considering a change in career. The position of the defenders was that the extent of the pursuer’s injuries attributable to the accident were a concussive head injury and associated post-concussion symptoms, all of which had cleared within 7 weeks of the accident.

Counsel for the pursuer submitted that he had become so preoccupied with his headaches and depression following the accident that they dominated his life and asked the court to prefer the evidence of the pursuer’s witnesses on this point. In response, it was submitted for the defenders that the pursuer had fully recovered from the accident by 6 October 2017 at the latest, and the worsening of his depression in April 2018 was a result of relationship pressures and stress at work rather than an after-effect of the accident.

No clinical basis

In his opinion, Lord Harrower said of the evidence: “My principal difficulty related to the evidence of the pursuer, whose persistent headaches, if they had an organic basis at all, could not be traced to any neurological injury sustained as a result of the accident. As a result, there was no objective clinical basis, such as might be provided by an X-ray or a scan, to determine the basis for the existence of his pain, its origins or its extent.”

He continued: “Instead, I found that the medical records, and the evidence of the pursuer’s GP did not reveal someone consistently presenting with intense headaches in the days and weeks, or even months following the accident. The records do however show that the pursuer began consistently to present with headaches from about March 2018, some 6 months after the accident.”

Noting that there was no evidence of any secondary injuries, Lord Harrower went on to say: “The pursuer suffered from headaches before and after the accident; he has not established that his headaches were worse after the accident; and, to the extent that they were worse, he has not established that they were made worse by the accident, as distinct from some other cause. So far as the pursuer’s depression is concerned, it is highly likely that he suffers from bouts of depression on a recurrent basis.”

Lord Harrower therefore concluded: “In broad agreement with the defenders, I have approached quantum on the basis that the pursuer suffered a minor head injury followed by post-concussion syndrome lasting at most 7 weeks. There having been no wage loss during this period, damages are restricted to solatium and necessary services provided by Ewa Bieniecka.”

Having reached these conclusions, solatium was assessed at £5000, with a further £250 for necessary services provided by Ms Bieniecka.

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