Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.


Psychiatric Injury Notes

GDL Law Notes > GDL Tort Law Notes

Updates Available  

A more recent version of these Psychiatric Injury notes – written by Cambridge/Bpp/College Of Law students – is available here.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our GDL Tort Law Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

Revision: Tort

DUTY OF CARE II: NERVOUS SHOCK AND PSYCHIATRIC INJURY The meaning of nervous shock/psychiatric damage


It is the courts that decide - expert witnesses but it is the court's decision as to what is means legally

The current position


Distinction between PRIMARY VICTIM and SECONDARY VICTIM: introduced by Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police to explain previous decisions: must establish which type a claimant is before discussing whether a DOC is owed

Primary victim: someone who suffers nervous shock as a result of reasonable fear for their own physical safety - primary victim doesn't actually suffer physical injury (this would bring negligence claim) - the primary victim is simply in reasonable fear (objective test) - primary victim is involved in the traumatic event in question


Dulieu v White: Claimant was a pregnant barmaid - defendant negligently crashed his coach and horses through a wall in her pub. She suffered nervous shock (and later a miscarriage) because she reasonably feared that she would be harmed in the collision - entitled to recover as a primary victim


Page v Smith - claimant involved in a car crash caused by the defendant's negligence - whilst suffered no physical injury, the psychological effects worsened his 'ME' (chronic fatigue syndrome) condition so as to render him disabled - primary victim because his condition arose from reasonable fear for his own safety - condition that he had before came back o

Shock as a catalyst for a medical reaction


Didn't matter that he'd had it before - thin skull rule

Secondary victim: suffers nervous shock due to fear for someone else's safety, usually close relative. Not in any fear for their own safety; they witness the traumatic event but are not involved


McLoughlin v O'Brian: secondary victim because she suffered psychiatric damage as a result of concern for her family


Alcock - all the claimants were secondary - at the football ground at the time of the disaster but none in danger themselves - nervous shock from seeing friends/relatives suffer

Problem cases - bystanders and rescuers Courts not always consistent

1 Revision: Tort



If a rescuer or bystander suffers nervous shock due to fearing his own safety then will be a primary victim o Chadwick: claimant succeeded in claim for nervous shock as a result of helping to rescue victims from rail crash - primary o Wigg v British Railways Board: train driver who tried to rescue someone trapped under a train: he was himself in danger and suffered the nervous shock due to fearing his own safety


Contrast: White v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police: police officers (C) from Hillsborough disaster - action was for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of experiences - claimed as employees and professional rescuers : HL dismissed claim - status as employees didn't convert them to primary victims - and professional rescuers failed as they weren't actually in danger themselves - court considered Chadwick v BRB and applied Alcock and Page v Smith


Considered again in Cullin v London Fire & Defence Authority: C was a fire fighter who suffered psychiatric injury after witnessing 2 colleagues trapped inside a burning building - attempt at rescuing them had failed - defendant claimed the case mirrored White but court instead followed obiter statements of Lord Goff in that case: could be argued that the claimant, in his rescue attempt, was exposed to danger or reasonably believed he could be subjected to physical injury - therefore primary victim

Position of bystanders: Unlikely to succeed McFarlane v EE Caledonia Ltd - considered liability for nervous shock suffered by the claimant after an oil rig disasterLaid down guidelines: a) Claimant must have been in actual area of danger but have escaped injury through good fortune/chance; or b) Even if not in danger, can recover if reasonably believed that he was c) Although not originally within the area of danger, he came into it later as a rescuerC in McFarlane failed because he was not actually in danger and was not actively involved in rescue - bystander 2

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our GDL Tort Law Notes.

More GDL Tort Law Samples