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Negligently inflicted psychiatric injury

The law adopts a restrictive approach in awarding damages for negligently inflicted psychiatric injury. In addition to the Caparo test for imposing a duty of care, the courts have laid down several obstacles which must be satisfied by claimants in order to establish liability for negligently inflicted psychiatric injury. Firstly   there must be an actual psychiatric injury:
Behrens & ors v Bertram Mills Circus Ltd. [1957] 2 QB 1    Case summary
Emotions of grief or sorrow are not sufficient to amount to psychiatric injury:

Hinz v Berry [1970] 2 QB 40    Case summary
Nor are feelings of fear, panic or terror:

Initially psychiatric injury claims were limited to those who feared for their own safety:
Dulieu v White  [1901] 2 KB 669    Case summary
The law has since developed to allow more wide ranging circumstances but is still quite restricted. A distinction is drawn between primary and secondary victims see:

Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 AC 310   Case summary

Primary victims
Primary victims are those who are involved 'mediately or immediately as a participant' Per Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire. 
This was later restricted to those in the zone of physical danger. See:
Page v Smith [1996] 1 AC 155     Case summary
An objective approach is taken as to whether the claimant is in the zone of physical danger:

        McFarlane v E. E. Caledonia [1994] 1 Lloyd's Rep 16    Case summary
Primary victims only need to establish that physical harm was foreseeable. There is no requirement  that psychiatric injury was foreseeable provided personal injury was foreseeable:

Page v Smith [1996] 1 AC 155     Case summary

A primary victim does not owe a duty of care to a secondary victim in relation to self-inflicted harm:

Greatorex v Greatorex [2001] 1 WLR 1970     Case summary

Secondary victims are those not within the physical zone of danger but witnesses of horrific events. Secondary victims must demonstrate the four Alcock criteria are present in order to establish liability:
1. A close tie of love and affection
2. Witness the event with their own unaided senses
3.Proximity to the event itself or its immediate aftermath
4. Psychiatric injury must be a result of a shocking event. 

1. Close tie of love and affection

This will be presumed in parent and child and between spouses but must be proved in other relationships. In particular siblings are not normally considered to have a close tie of love and affection.

2. Witness the event with own unaided senses

Seeing the events on television is not sufficient.


3. Proximity to the event itself or its immediate aftermath
In Alcock, the relatives that had visited the make shift mortuary to identify loved ones, were held not to come within the immediate aftermath of the event. See also:

McLoughlin v O'Brian [1982] 2 WLR 982    Case summary
What constitutes immediate aftermath is decided on the particular facts of the case:
4. Psychiatric injury must be caused by a shocking event.


Lord Ackner in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire stated:

"'Shock", in the context of this cause of action, involves the sudden appreciation by sight or sound of a horrifying event, which violently agitates the mind. It has yet to include psychiatric illness caused by the accumulation over a period of time of more gradual assaults on the nervous system."
This excludes those who suffer psychiatric injury as a result of the long term process of providing care for a loved one who has suffered severe injuries due to the defendant's negligence: 

See also:

Barrett v Enfield LBC [1999] WLR 79

An exception to this is in relation to work related stress where an employer is under a duty not to cause psychiatric injury to an employee but only where the injury is foreseable:

Barber v Somerset County Council [2004] 1 WLR 1089

Sutherland v Hatton [2002] 2 All ER 1

Cases giving rise to difficulty 

Lord Oliver in Alcock had originally classed rescuers such as seen in Chadwick v British railways Board [1967] 1 WLR 912 as primary victims for policy reasons. Rescuers should be encouraged rather than deterred.
Chadwick v British railways Board [1967] 1 WLR 912   Case summary
However this position was changed in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire. Rescuers are now to be given no favourable treatment. Neither are employees:

Those who believe they are the cause of anothers' death:

Hunter v British Coal Corp [1998] 2 All ER 97       Case summary

Dooley v Cammell Laird & Co. Ltd [1971] 1 Lloyd's Rep 271    Case summary

Psychiatric injury in consequence of property damage:

Attia v British Gas [1988] QB 304     Case summary

Other types of claims against the police:
Further reading

Law Commission Report - Liability for Psychiatric injury 1998