High Court Case CAX v PQR Highlights Challenges in Assessing Damages for Long-term Psychological Harm from Sexual Abuse

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3198 (KB)
Judgment on

Introduction

The recent High Court judgment in the case CAX v PQR shines a light on the complexities of assessing damages in cases of sustained sexual abuse resulting in long-term psychological harm. This article analyses the legal principles applied by Mrs Justice Ellenbogen DBE, dissecting the factors considered in reaching a verdict on the quantum of damages awarded. The case offers valuable insight into how the judiciary approaches the challenging task of quantifying compensation for non-physical and psychological injuries, particularly resulting from sexual abuse.

Key Facts

The claimant, granted anonymity, pursued a claim for damages following a series of sexual assaults by her maternal grandfather, the defendant, who had been convicted for these offenses. The assaults occurred from when the claimant was approximately three years old until she was 11. The default judgment was entered in favor of the claimant, with the damages hearing set to quantify the losses. The claimant, representing herself, sought damages for pain, suffering, loss of amenity, and financial losses related to her career delays attributable to the abuse.

Assessment of Damages

The court adopted established guidelines for assessing damages, referencing the Judicial College Guidelines and case law precedents. There was particular reliance on KR v Bryn Alyn Community Holdings Ltd, where it was determined that awards should account for the immediate and long-term psychiatric harm caused by abuse.

General Damages

General damages were assessed based on the nature, severity, and duration of the assault, alongside the psychological damage caused. The claimant’s abuse began at a young age and was severe in nature, warranting her classification under the ‘severe’ category of the guidelines, resulting in an award of £80,000 for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity.

Aggravated Damages

Aggravated damages were considered for factors exacerbating the claimant’s suffering, including the defendant’s flagrant behavior, lack of remorse, and impact on the claimant’s life, comprising an award of £15,000.

Financial Losses

The court calculated past and future loss of earnings using a multiplier/multiplicand approach. This addressed the delay in the claimant’s pursuit of her intended career due to the abuse’s effects on her mental health and education. This quantification method was chosen over the Blamire approach due to the clear pattern of probable earnings discernible from the presented facts.

Future Treatment Costs

Costs for future Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), recommended to alleviate the claimant’s psychological symptoms, plus the associated travel expenses, were awarded based on the duration and frequency of treatment sessions advised by a psychiatric expert.

Outcomes

The judgment affirmed awards under the following categories:

  • General damages for pain, suffering, and loss of amenity: £80,000
  • Aggravated damages: £15,000
  • Past loss of earnings: £94,628.09
  • Past travel costs for counselling sessions: £126.00
  • Increased university tuition fees: £3,750
  • Future loss of earnings: £83,652.89
  • Cost of future treatment (CBT sessions): £11,653.93
  • Projected travel costs: £982.80

Conclusion

Mrs Justice Ellenbogen’s application of legal principles to CAX v PQR underscores the significance of comprehensive and methodical consideration in cases concerning the quantification of damages stemming from prolonged sexual abuse. The court’s approach demonstrates the balancing act necessary to appropriately compensate for the unique and personal suffering endured by victims, illustrating not just legal prescriptiveness but also the role of judicial discretion when definite measures of harm and consequent economic loss are inherently nebulous. This case reaffirms the judiciary’s capacity to adapt traditional legal frameworks to sensitively and justly resolve claims involving delicate and deeply personal violations of individuals’ rights.

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