Psychiatric injury—establishing liability
Psychiatric injury—establishing liability

The following PI & Clinical Negligence practice note provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Psychiatric injury—establishing liability
  • Classifying the victim
  • Primary victims
  • Establishing liability—common law
  • Statutory liability in the workplace
  • Statutory liability outside the workplace
  • Secondary victims
  • Other types of claimant—pre-existing legal relationship
  • Employees
  • Rescuers
  • More...

Classifying the victim

Liability for psychiatric injury is dependent in part on the nature of the injuries suffered and the manner in which they were sustained.

Where a claimant suffers both physical and psychiatric injury (even if the physical injury was very minor), they will be entitled to recover damages in the usual way subject to issues of causation etc. There will in such a case be no need to prove the foreseeability of the psychiatric injury if the physical injury was itself foreseeable.

The complexity arises where a claimant has suffered psychiatric injury but is physically unharmed.

In ‘horrific incident’ or 'nervous shock' cases, ie those where the psychiatric injury has arisen as a result of participation in some kind of frightening accident or event, the law divides claimants who have suffered ‘pure’ psychiatric injury into two categories:

  1. primary victims

  2. secondary victims

Primary victims

Primary victims are directly involved in the event and usually, but not necessarily, have physical injuries as well as psychiatric injuries.

See Practice Note: Psychiatric injury—primary victims.

Establishing liability—common law

To establish liability at common law a primary victim must show that it was reasonably foreseeable that a person would suffer a physical or psychiatric injury as a result of the defendant's negligent act.

Statutory liability in the workplace

In addition, the alternative statutory protection can entitle a primary victim to damages where breach of statute has caused psychiatric injury.

In

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