E-law cases
Custom Search
   Case summaries      McFarlane v EE Caledonia


McFarlane v EE Caledonia [1993] EWCA Civ 13   Court of Appeal

This case arose from the Piper Alpha disaster in which a fire broke out in an oil rig in the North Sea resulting in the death of 164 workers and many more suffered serious injuries. The claimant worked on the Piper Alpha but was not on it when the fire broke out. At this time he was on an accommodation vessel, The Tharos, which was anchored 550 yards from the Piper Alpha. The Tharos was also an emergency vehicle and went to provide assistance.  In the emergency of the situation, The Tharos did not follow procedures to evacuate the non –essential personnel before going in to rescue. The claimant was on board The Tharos for roughly  1 hour 45 minutes during the fire. Half of that time, the vessel was within 100 metres of the platform; of which 40 minutes were within 70 metres and a few minutes as close as 50 metres. The claimant brought an action against the owner and operator of Piper Alpha claiming he suffered  psychiatric injury. He claimed that he feared for his life and had also witnessed men in distress, on fire and jumping into the sea. The Tharos was never actually in danger. No physical damage to the vessel was sustained. No personal injuries resulted and no other member of the vessel experienced psychiatric injury. The trial judge found for the claimant on the preliminary issue of whether the defendant owed a duty of care. The defendant appealed.


The appeal was allowed. No duty of care was owed. In relation to his fear for his own safety, it was not reasonably foreseeable that a man of ordinary fortitude and phlegm would be so affected by what he saw.  The claimant was not a person of average fortitude or customary phlegm and he was more susceptible to psychiatric injury than the average man. He was not in the zone of physical danger despite his belief and therefore was not a primary victim. As a secondary victim witnessing the suffering of the other men, he did not meet the criteria established by Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable for South Yorkshire.

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