Gray v Thames Trains Ltd [2009] UKHL 33

Illegality wide versus narrow approach.


The appellant, Gray, was a passenger in the Ladbroke Grove train crash which the respondents had caused due to negligence. The crash caused Gray to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While he was receiving treatment for this he fatally stabbed someone who walked out in front of his car. He was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and detained in hospital. He sued the respondents for negligence, claiming damages for his conviction, detention, and emotional suffering. He also sought an indemnity against any claims that might be brought by his victim’s family. 


The trial judge ruled that as a matter of public policy under the rule of ex turpi causa a person could not recover general damages as a result of his own criminal act. Taking a narrow approach, the Court of Appeal followed Clunis v Camden and Islington HA [1998] QB 978 and held that Gray could not recover general damages but could recover special damages relating to his loss of earnings.


The House of Lords held that Clunis meant that a person could not recover damages that resulted from of a sentence imposed on him for a criminal act. Taking a wider approach, their Lordships also held that Gray was not entitled to compensation for loss of earnings as this resulted from his own criminal act. The claim for general emotional suffering and an indemnity were also results of having killed his victim. Therefore, ex turpi causa still applied and the court would not assist him to recover.