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Can I claim for a psychiatric injury that I have sustained?

I am regularly advised by clients they believe that they’ve sustained a psychiatric injury as a result of an accident.

In English law a psychiatric injury is known as nervous shock. Often it is caused by being involved in an accident but it also covers witnessing an accident. The law says that the psychiatric injury must extend beyond grief or emotional distress to a recognised mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. It is not sufficient to for a client to have told me that he is feeling down or not his normal self.

Before a client can recover damages for nervous shock, they must prove all of the elements of the tort of negligence:-

1. Duty of Care – the defendant must have a duty not to inflict nervous shock;
2. Breach – the defendant’s actions or omissions fell below what would be expected from a reasonable person;
3. Causation – There must be a link between the breach and the psychiatric injury. Specifically the nervous shock was the direct consequence of the defendant’s breach of duty; and
4. Foreseeability – The nervous shock was not too remote a consequence of the breach.

Things are not, however, so straightforward as the courts have developed a number of principles limiting who can claim which aims at limiting the number of claims. The courts have separated out the types of claim into primary and secondary victims.

A “primary victim” is a person who was or could have been physically injured. An example would be someone who is involved in a road traffic accident caused by the defendant’s careless driving but the fright causes a mental condition. A claimant can therefore recover compensation for the nervous shock he had suffered.

A “secondary victim” is a person who suffers nervous shock without being exposed to danger such as a spectator at a car race who witnesses a crash.

It is in these cases where the courts have been reluctant to award damages for nervous shock. The courts have created several requirements as to what can constitute nervous shock:-

1. The claimant must witness, hear in person or view the aftermath of a “shocking event”. This requires close physical proximity to the event and would usually exclude events witnessed by television or informed of by someone else.
2. The shock must be “sudden” rather than “gradual” so a claimant who develops depression from living with a relative debilitated by the accident cannot claim.
3. There must be a “close tie of love and affection” to the injured person. These ties are presumed to exist only between parents and children as well as spouses and fiancés. In other relationships, ties of love and affection must be proved.
4. It must be reasonably foreseeable that a person of “normal fortitude” would suffer injury. The closer the tie between the claimant and the victim, the more likely it is that he will succeed. A mere bystander will therefore be unable to claim unless he had witnessed something so terrible that anybody could be expected to suffer psychiatric injury as a result.

If you have suffered nervous shock and would like to discuss your personal injury claim on a no-obligation consultation then please get in touch with me. I will be happy to discuss all aspects of your personal injury claim to decide the best way to proceed.

I am a London-based solicitor at Goodge Law and an expert in securing compensation for people who have been injured in accidents that were not their fault. I work on a no win-no fee basis so you will never have to fund any part of your personal injury claim.