David Pittaway QC successfully defended GP in psychiatric claim at trial

March 27, 2019

David Pittaway QC successfully defended Dr Aulakh, a GP, at trial against a claim brought on behalf of a middle aged man who unsuccessfully attempted suicide by hanging, and now requires 24 hour care. It was alleged that the GP, 25 days before the attempted suicide, should have referred him to the Community Mental Health Services Crisis Response Team, as he had expressed current suicidal ideation and planning at a consultation with the GP.

The trial judge, Whipple J, dismissed the claim, accepting the GP’s case that the record showed past and not present suicidal ideation, and that the surrounding evidence did not show that he was in a psychosocial crisis at the time. She also rejected the claimant’s case that, if he had been referred, on the balance of probabilities, intervention of the Crisis Response Team, would have averted the suicide attempt. Finally she accepted the defence case that, if there had been breach of duty, it would have been appropriate to make a finding of contributory negligence, which she assessed at 25%, Corr (Administratrix Of The Estate Of Thomas Corr, Deceased) v IBC Vehicles Ltd (2008) UKHL 13 followed.

The case was unusual in that shortly before trial the GP became unfit to give evidence, and the trial judge admitted and assessed the weight of her signed witness statement under section 4 of the Civil Evidence Act 1995. There are also only a small number of clinical negligence cases in which the courts have been prepared to make findings of contributory negligence. Although, the issue did not arise in this case, as it was dismissed, the finding is an important addition in psychiatric cases based on the principles explained by Lord Neuberger in Corr.

The trial judge thanked counsel for their assistance in this case, which she said in her judgment was extremely well-prepared, and expertly presented with a clear focus on the key issues.

The case citation is PPX (A Protected Party By His Brother and Litigation Friend BLF) v Dr Ravinder Aulakh [2019] EWHC 717 (QB).

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