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White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire

[1999] 1 All ER 1

Case summary last updated at 19/01/2020 10:59 by the Oxbridge Notes in-house law team.

Judgement for the case White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire

4 policeman (Ps) sued R (chief officer responsible at Hillsborough) for causing them nervous shock through his negligence in allowing the accident to occur. HL dismissed their claims since they were suffering extreme grief, not a psychiatric illness. HL also said that the “rescuer” should no longer fall within category of those who may be secondary victims of psychiatric illness, unless P has exposed themselves to danger or reasonably believed that he was doing so. See Steyn’s policy arguments below.
Lord Steyn: there is a distinction between extreme grievance (not compensable) and psychiatric illness (compensable). Ps fell into the former category. The law doesn’t compensate people for all emotional suffering as it would cause disproportionate loss to the one who acted negligently and would allow too many claims to be brought. 
Lord Hoffman agrees, but dislikes the “control mechanisms” e.g. what classes of person can claim in cases of secondary psychological damage- the law of tort should be used to “give legal sanction to moral obligation on the part of anyone who has [unjustifiably] caused damage to another”. However he says the arbitrary control mechanisms, such as the “reasonable fortitude” requirement or the limited “classes of person” who can claim is wrong. However, it is for the legislature to change. He says that one has to focus on distributive justice so as to decide who ought to bear the costs and burdens of harm done so as to reach conclusions that are acceptable to ordinary people. In this case it would seem unacceptable that police on duty would receive compensation when relatives of the victims would not.

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