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   Case summaries      Hunter v British Coal Corporation


Hunter v British Coal Corporation [1998] 2 All ER 97  Court of Appeal

The claimant was employed by the defendant to drive an FSV in the coal mine. Whilst driving his FSV he struck a water hydrant, due to the poor visibility, inadequate lighting and bad floor conditions and breach of a statutory duty by the defendant in relation to the minimum vertical clearance above the vehicle. The hydrant was also protruding into the roadway. The claimant stopped his vehicle and saw the hydrant was leaking water. He attempted to turn a valve to stop the leak but was unable to. A work colleague came to provide some assistance but together they still could not stop the leak. The claimant went off to find a hose to channel the escaping water, however, when he was about 20 yards away he heard an explosion from the water hydrant and ran to turn off the water supply. Ten minutes later, Mr Hunter was told that his colleague had been killed in the explosion. He immediately felt responsible for the death and this guilt feeling caused him a pathological depressive illness. He brought an action against the employee for the psychiatric injury suffered. The trial judge found for the defendant and Mr Hunter appealed.


The appeal was dismissed. (Hobhouse LJ Dissenting)

Mr Hunter was not a primary victim as he was not within physical proximity at the time of the explosion and heard of the death 10 minutes later. As a secondary victim he did not satisfy the criteria set out by Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable of Yorkshire.  

Brooke LJ:

Three different types of primary victim in whose favour the law will recognise a direct duty of care owed by the person who performs the act which occasions the victim’s psychiatric injury:

(i) those who are caused to fear physical injury to themselves;

(ii) those who come to the rescue of the injured;

(iii) those who believe that they are about to be, or have been, the involuntary cause of another’s death or injury.


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