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Phelps v Hillingdon LBC

[2000] 3 WLR 776

Case summary last updated at 18/01/2020 19:02 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Phelps v Hillingdon LBC

Ps had learning/physical problems that were either not investigated, or not diagnosed, or not adequately catered for by local authorities, Rs, responsible for their education (following erroneous reports from educational psychiatrists). This lack of care caused Ps to suffer and HL held that Rs were vicariously liable for the reports of their psychiatrists. It said that people in a particular profession/exercising a particular skill (e.g. educational psychologist, as here) owe a duty of care where a person could foreseeably be harmed if due care isn’t exercised in making her report to the local authorities; That duties of care don’t require contracts; that a contractual duty to one party (psychologist to R) doesn’t prevent a duty of care to another party (Ps); that where a psychologist’s assessment was asked for and it was clear that P’s school/parents would act on that advise, a prima facie duty of care arose; that teachers owe a duty to take the care of a reasonable teacher in ensuring students’ needs are met; Rs are vicariously liable for its teachers and psychologists. 
Lord Clyde: He says we have to ask (1) can/should a duty exist (resolved by consideration of policy + fair, just and reasonable) and (2) does a duty exist (proximity, foreseeability etc). Here, public interest is FOR allowing claims so as to uphold standards (not undue burden on teachers and won’t allow a flood of claims). On question 2, the fact that the advice was clearly going to be acted upon by P/P’s parents means that the duty cannot only be said to have been owed to R.

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