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Claim struck out after 28 year delay

The Court of Appeal has held that a 28 year delay in bringing a claim presented an unfair prejudice to the Defendant, because medical records and evidence had been destroyed and memories would have faded.

The case

The case of Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust v Simon De Meza (2017) involved an alleged failure by the Defendant hospital to appropriately devise, institute or enforce any adequate system of patient follow-up in respect of the Claimant’s diagnosis of hypogonadism between 1983 and 2011. It was alleged that this failure resulted in a delay in providing treatment which should have been provided in 1984, some 27 years sooner than was in fact the case.

The Defendant argued that the Claimant was too late in bringing this claim, and that it was statute barred. Acting as a Litigant in Person, the Claimant sought to extend the limitation period under s 33 Limitation Act 1980, but he failed to provide any explanation for the extensive delay in bringing the claim. Lady Justice Thirlwall stated that delay of itself was not a reason to refuse to extend time; it was the effect of delay on the Defendant’s ability to defend the claim that mattered.

The Court of Appeal held that it was entirely appropriate to apply s 33 Limitation Act 1980 to this claim. To require the Defendant to defend the claim would be inequitable.

Why is this important?

Not only was the relevant evidence no longer available, but the parties would be unable to reliably recall the events in question and the 77 year old doctor concerned was in poor health and would be distressed by the claim made against him. The initial decision to disapply the limitation period was held to be flawed and the Recorder who decided the case at the Court of First Instance had erred in his assumption that the case had merit.

How can we help?

For further information on the issues raised by this update, please contact Jeffrey Keeble or a member of the healthcare team.

Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.

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