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Hunter v British Coal Corporation

[1998] 2 All ER 97

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 11:04 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case Hunter v British Coal Corporation

 P’s and workmates tried to turn off a hydrant in a mine and, failing, P went to get equipment. While leaving the hydrant exploded and killed his workmate. He didn’t see the explosion or know of workmate’s death until told about it later, causing him major depression, due to an irrational feeling that he was responsible. P sued the employer D (who was responsible for keeping the hydrants in good condition) for causing him psychiatric harm. CA dismissed his claim. It ruled that he wasn’t a primary victim as he didn’t fall within the first two of the guidelines that Lord Oliver set down for psychological injury in Alcock ((i) those who are caused to fear physical injury to themselves; (ii) those who come to the rescue of the injured; (iii) those who believe that they are about to be, or have been, the involuntary cause of another's death or injury). There wasn’t sufficient proximity for him to come within the third. In terms of being secondary victim, CA said that (1) the irrationality of his reaction was not a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the duty of care (NB the “reasonable man” requirement for secondary victims); (2) he was not a witness (propinquant to the tragedy in terms of time- he was told about it later) nor at physical risk himself. Hence he did not get compensation.

NB Hobhouse LJ, dissenting, pointed to Lord Oliver’s dictum in Alcock that a P who is caused, by D’s negligence, to be an unwilling participant in the event and suffers reasonably foreseeable psychiatric illness is to be treated as a primary victim. This has no requirement that D see the event directly. – also the conclusion of the Law Commission. He is right

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