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Accessible legal tips, know-how and news for anyone with a complaint or legal issue from Stephen Gold, author of The Return of Breaking Law, the book

Sunday 24 November 2019

Selfish and Disgusting Sneezers: Sue them

Twice this afternoon. Once in Waterstones and once in WH Smith. Within ten yards of me at each venue, a customer emitted the most enormous sneeze with gay abandon. No attempt to cover mouth, nostrils or any other orifice. No handkerchief. 'Look at me, I can sneeze loud, high and far so that I can infect you all.' I aired my views as volubly as I could without causing a public disturbance or a punch on my nose and do please remember that I wear specs and am of a nervous disposition. The circumstances were not quite good enough for a civil claim. But without apology, I again present my annual rant just in case you feel as strongly as me and fancy a trip to court. Here goes. 

An assault and battery are known to the civil law as a trespass to the person. If an unprotected sneeze is directed into your face then I regard that as such a trespass. It's probably also the tort of negligence. It could be either or both when, though not directly aimed at you, the sneezer is aware of your presence and the sneeze is emitted so close to you that they should have foreseen that you might catch something from them.

Proving that it was a result of the sneeze that you were struck down could be the obstacle to a successful civil claim for damages. You would have to prove that it was more probable than not that the sneeze was the cause of your illness. Physical closeness, the absence of prior symptoms, the velocity of the sneeze and the stage at which the symptoms began to manifest themselves will be among the major factors for consideration. The further away from you was the sneezer, the weaker your case.

A good sneeze can certainly travel at 60 to 80 miles per hour for up to 20 metres but research published in 2015 suggested that droplets from sneezes - and coughs - may travel 200 times further than had been thought. The incubation period for whatever is to follow the sneeze is around 24 to 48 hours.

Of course, you cannot make a civil claim unless you know the identity of the sneezer. Don't attempt a private arrest. For more on overcoming this obstacle and draft particulars of claim for a sneezing claim for damages, see my book Breaking Law. No warranty is given that you will succeed but let's hope someone does..... soon.'

I feel better now. Sorry.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018