Crown Office Chambers Final Problem 23 March 2010
In the Supreme Court
Foster v Shelbourne County Council
Ms Foster worked as a teacher for Shelbourne County Council. She is a perfectionist. This made her particularly vulnerable to stress at work. Her doctor told her that she was at risk of suffering a mental breakdown and advised her to seek a much less stressful form of employment immediately, but she chose to continue working anyway because she was so dedicated to her students. She informed the school authorities of her doctor’s comments; in response, they reduced her workload as much as possible, and advised her to use their counselling service, if necessary.
Ms Foster eventually suffered a breakdown, and sued the Council for negligence, arguing that they should have dismissed her for her own good when they became aware of the doctor’s advice and that the principle outlined in Fairchild  UKHL 22 applied on the facts of the case.
The trial judge found for Ms Foster, and the Court of Appeal dismissed the Council’s appeal. The Council now appeals to the Supreme Court on the following grounds:
(1) That the trial judge erred in applying Coxall v Goodyear Great Britain Ltd  EWCA Civ 1010 and concluding that the Council had breached its duty to Ms Foster by failing to dismiss her: statements of principle in other cases rightly indicate that an employer cannot be in breach of duty for failing to dismiss an employee who wanted to continue working despite medical advice.
(2) That the trial judge also erred in concluding that the Fairchild principle applied on the facts of the case: it is the general ‘but for’ causation rule, and not some Fairchild relaxation of it, that applies to occupational stress cases.
Many thanks to Jesse Elvin for allowing us to share this moot problem, which was used in the Final of the Crown Office Moot at The City Law School, 23rd March 2010. The Moot was judged by The Hon Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart.