Law of Torts - Nervous Shock

Nervous shock has no definite definition. It is known as ‘any recognizable psychiatric illness caused by the breach of Duty by the defendant. Please refer to the case of Hinz v Berry. It is not ordinary grief sorrow or anxiety which occurs in normal incidents in life.

Development of Nervous Shock

Initial Stage

After the earlier stage the courts rejected liability for nervous shock because

i. It is difficult to diagnosis – not like physical injury

ii. It is normal for human to be exposed to such shock

Victoria Railway Comm v Coultas - - mere sudden shock unaccompanied by physical injury cannot claim.

Delieu v White - - Nervous Shock produced by fear of immediate physical injury to oneself can claim.

First Expansion

Court develop that damages for nervous shock can be claimed if it is reasonably foreseeable that someone closely connected to victim will suffer nervous shock.

Bourhill v Young - - a pregnant lady after alighting from a tramcar hear noise of collision and after the accident she went to the spot, saw blood spot and got shock. Court denied her claim because it was not reasonably foreseeable that someone not closely connected to the victim would suffer nervous shock.

Hambrook v Stones Bros. - - a mother succeeded in recovering damages for nervous shock produced not for her own safety but for her children’s safety. A lorry without driver running down near her children and she got shock because did not see her child.

Zainab Bt Ismail v Marimuthu & Anor - - a mother saw her daughter was runned down by a lorry. It was held that it is reasonably foreseeable that the mother will suffer shock and awarded the claim. The only local reported cases.

Second Expansion

Ear Shot Doctrine

Near relatives who might not have witnesses the accident but was within ‘earshot’ (vicinity) and likely to come upon the scene. In such a situation the claimant can claim for nervous shock.

Broadman v Sanderson - - D injured a young boy while negligently backing his car out of a garage. The father heard scream and ran to his son to rescue him. Successfully claim.

Hinz v Berry - - a mother witnesses a horrifying and tragic accident to her family from the other side of the road – can claim.

Third Expansion

Aftermath Doctrine

Witnessed the immediate aftermath of an accident in the hospital and suffers nervous shock can recover claim because it is reasonably foreseeable the consequence of D’s negligence even though it is not within the sight and hearing.

Mc Loughlin v O’Brian - - a mother who stay 2 mile away who heard an accident of her family from neighbor went to hospital and saw her daughter has died and other children and her husband was upset with the death. She suffers nervous shock. House of Lords awarded the claim. The above ruling was made.

Jaensch v Coffey - - P suffered nervous shock after seeing the effect of an accident on her husband at hospital. She was awarded damages. The court further held that immediate aftermath includes:

i. being at the scene after accident.

ii. Seeing treatment at hospital.

Further Development

Witnessing events on television at home or heard from radio. The House of Lord rejected such claim it does not satisfy the requirement of proximity. However it is not totally ruled out.

Alcock v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police - - P (16) people suffered nervous shock in the aftermath of a tragedy which occurred at a stadium where 95 spectators were crushed to death and over 400 were injured at a major football match. The disaster was covered life in radio and tv.

i. Some watched the incident from other side of scene.

ii. Some watched in TV at home.

iii. Other heard from radio or from friends or recorded pictures in TV.

Trial Judge allows the first 2 claimants but rejected the third one. In the Court of Appeal: on the issue of witnessing event in TV was dismissed the claim because it does not satisfy the requirement of proximity. But on appeal the House of Lord dismissed all the claims.

See further Alcock's case
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