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Greatorex v Greatorex [2000] 1 WLR 1970     High Court

John Greatorex had been drinking with his friend  Haydon Pope. John then, with Haydon’s permission, drove Haydon’s car, and Haydon was a passenger. John drove the car recklessly and was involved in a head on collision with another vehicle. Haydon was uninjured but John suffered a serious head injury and was unconscious trapped in his car for about an hour. The emergency services were called and the claimant Christopher Greatorex, John’s father, a leading fire officer, arrived on the scene. Christopher attended to his son and then suffered long term severe post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident. The claimant brought an action against his son for the psychiatric injury caused by his negligence.

Held:

The claim failed on policy grounds. Whilst the claimant was a secondary victim and met the criteria set out by Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire, a primary victim does not owe a duty of care to a third party in circumstances where his self-inflicted injuries caused that third party psychiatric injury.

Cazalet J:

“where a family member suffers psychiatric harm as a result of the self-inflicted injuries of another family member, the psychiatric illness in itself may well have an adverse effect upon family relationships which the law should be astute not to exacerbate by allowing litigation between those family members. In my judgment, to permit a cause of action for purely psychiatric injury in these circumstances would be potentially productive of acute family strife.”

Back to lecture outline on negligently inflicted psychiatric injury in tort law