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McLoughlin v O’Brian

[1983] 1 AC 410

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 10:49 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case McLoughlin v O’Brian

D caused a car crash which caused injury to P’s husband and killed P’s daughter. P, not present at the scene of the crash, sued D for causing her nervous shock and psychological illness through negligence. HL said that D was liable for negligence since the shock was the reasonably foreseeable result of the crash and that policy considerations should not change this
Lord Wilberforce: the arguments against extending liability to cases of nervous shock are (1) floodgates; (2) would lead to Ds being punished beyond their negligent conduct i.e. overly unfair to D; (3) creation of evidentiary difficulties and lengthen litigation; (4) parliament should decide if there should be an extension. However in contrast to this, people should be compensated where they have been caused harm. Wilberforce suggests 3 limitations on such claims: Firstly, only certain classes of people, e.g. close family members, should be compensated. Secondly P should have been close to the accident (for establishing “proximity” between D and P) in terms of space (e.g. a witness) or time (e.g. as here, where one sees the victims soon after the accident). Thirdly, the shock must come through “SIGHT or HEARING of the event or its immediate aftermath” and not 3rd party narrative
Lord Bridge (endorsed by others): P has to show that they are not merely suffering the normal symptoms of grief or anguish, but actual psychiatric illness. Beyond this, normal rules apply to finding a duty of care. 

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