High Court: Personal injuries claim for bullying and harassment statute-barred despite argument that plaintiff was under a disability
The High Court has struck out a plaintiff’s personal injuries claim for damages arising from bullying and harassment in the workplace on the basis that the proceedings were statute-barred.
About this case:
- Citation: IEHC 580
- Court:High Court
- Judge:Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger
The plaintiff had lodged a PIAB application 10 months outside the two-year limitation period but claimed that she was operating under a disability which extended the limitation period.
Delivering judgment in the case, Ms Justice Marguerite Bolger held that the plaintiff was suffering from significant stress when she first presented to her GP and suffered from mild to moderate depression thereafter.
However, on the evidence, the illness fell short of establishing that she had a disability within the meaning of the Statute of Limitations Act 1991.
The plaintiff was a woman who worked in Dunnes Stores. She claimed that she suffered bullying and harassment at work, which led to significant health problems. She first attended her GP regarding her health in May 2014 and it was agreed between the parties that this was the date of the accrual of the cause of action.
The plaintiff later decided to make a claim against her employer seeking damages for personal injuries. However, a PIAB application was only lodged in March 2017, which was 10 months outside the two-year limitation period for personal injuries actions. Accordingly, the defendant brought a motion seeking to strike out the proceedings as statute barred.
In response to the application, the plaintiff relied on medical evidence from her GP, which outlined that she presented as extremely upset, tearful and distraught. She was certified as unfit for work in the following months. In August 2014, the plaintiff was diagnosed with mild to moderate depress secondary to work-related stress. Further, the plaintiff was involuntarily admitted to hospital on the basis of a delusional disorder in May 2016. It was opined by her doctor that the plaintiff’s executive function had been affected to the point where she could not properly bring the proceedings in time.
As such, it was submitted that the plaintiff’s capacity to instruct a solicitor between May 2014 and October 2015 was diminished, although the defendant submitted that this was an evidential issue. It was argued that the doctor’s conclusions on executive function was inconsistent with the plaintiff being able to engage with Citizens Advice and FLAC.
It was also argued that the plaintiff’s date of knowledge of the injury did not accrue at the time she first presented to her doctor because she was operating under a disability within the meaning of section 49 of the Statute of Limitations 1957. It was said that this disability continued until the plaintiff had recovered from her psychosis in 2017 and therefore the proceedings were not out of time.
Ms Justice Bolger began by considering the plaintiff’s date of knowledge, noting that the time for instituting proceedings could be extended notwithstanding that the date of knowledge may have occurred within the two-year period. This was ultimately a matter of evidence, the court said.
It was held that the plaintiff’s position on her actual date of knowledge was unclear, but that in her attendance with her doctor, she gave a detailed account of the incidents and the effect on her. The plaintiff’s account showed that she was aware of her injury in May 2014 and it was therefore held that her date of knowledge with in May 2014 when she first attended her GP.
Turning to the issue of disability, the court noted that the plaintiff must be under a disability at the time the cause of action accrued (Rohan v. Bord Na Mona  IR 425). It was held that the plaintiff was under a disability when she was involuntarily detained in hospital in May 2016. Based on the available evidence from the GP, the court was satisfied that the plaintiff was under a disability from psychotic illness from October 2014 even though her illness was not formally diagnosed until May 2016.
However, this did not answer the statute issue because the plaintiff had to satisfy the court that she was operating under a disability from May 2014. It was a matter of evidence for the court to determine what the plaintiff was capable of doing at this time, the court held.
The court set out the evidence relating to the plaintiff attending meetings with Citizens Advice and FLAC alone. She also lodged a detailed complaint with the LRC in November 2014, although it was said that this form was filled out by her husband. The evidence confirmed that the plaintiff was capable of setting out a detailed account of her experiences at relevant times and was therefore capable of managing her affairs relating to her work experience, the court said.
While the court was satisfied that the plaintiff experienced significant stress from May 2014 and was suffering from mild to moderate depression from August 2014, the level of illness fell short of the type of condition which rendered the plaintiff as being of unsound mind with the meaning of section 48 of the 1957 Act.
As such, the court held that the proceedings should be struck out pursuant to the Statute of Limitations 1991, as amended. The court also expressed a preliminary view that the defendant was entitled to its costs.
Johnson v. Dunnes Stores plc  IEHC 580