The Collapse of a Young Couple's Dream Home

17/05/2012

David Quinn was approached by a young married couple with infant children who had purchased the “Dream Home” in a satellite suburb of Campbelltown in the early 1980s.

The young couple’s “Dream Home” collapsed around them in 1984.

The local council issued an order under the Public Health Act declaring the house unsafe for human habitation and requiring the young couple and their children to vacate their home.

Thereafter, the wife suffered a stillborn birth 7 months into her pregnancy, the young couple’s marriage broke down, the husband and the wife individually suffered various and different forms of psychiatric illness.

The young couple sued for damages. The defendants in the action were an engineer who negligently certified the safety of the footings of the house, the local council which negligently allowed the erection of the house, a subdivision contractor who negligently failed to carry out compaction of filling in a proper manner and a geotechnical engineer.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, the defendants admitted liability which left the Court with the role of assessing the types and amounts of damages to be paid by the defendants to the young couple.

The Important Issue of the Case

The damages awarded by the Court for psychiatric illness, worry, distress and inconvenience were considered by the Court to be consequential to the negligence of the various defendants.

The question for the Court was whether the consequential damages were reasonably foreseeable as a result of the defendants’ negligence.

The Court answered this question in the affirmative.

Damage to Property v Harm to Person

Proof that mental illness is the reasonably foreseeable result of negligent damage to property may often be difficult to establish and proof that is a reasonably foreseeable result of the negligent infliction of personal injury.

For the same principles of ……….. and remoteness apply whether the cause of action in tort is for damage to property or harm to person.

The defendants knew or ought to have known that if the house collapsed, the young couple would suffer distress or anxiety. It was only to be expected that the collapse of a “Dream Home” would be a matter of great distress and anxiety to a young married couple.

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