Public authorities are under a duty to protect mentally ill people for whom they bear responsibility from foreseeable risks of injury. In a case on point, a schizophrenia sufferer who was gravely injured in a fall from a first-floor window after being discharged from a psychiatric unit received seven-figure compensation.
The man, who had a complex history of mental health difficulties, was placed by a local authority in bed-sit accommodation for the homeless following his discharge from the NHS unit, where he had been an inpatient. Although it was possible that he had attempted suicide, his fall from the bed-sit's window might equally have been caused by hallucinations arising from his illness or from taking illegal drugs.
Proceedings were launched against the NHS trust that ran the unit, claiming that it was negligent to discharge the man into the community without adequate plans being put in place to monitor his mental health problems. The local authority was also sued on the basis that the bed-sit was unsuitable for his needs and gave rise to a foreseeable risk that he would sustain harm.
The man was aged 37 when he fell from the window, suffering spinal injuries that resulted in paraplegia. Both the trust and the local authority denied that they were at fault but, following negotiations, a £1.6 million lump-sum settlement of the man's claim was reached. The High Court approved the settlement.