Psychiatric injury—other legal relationships

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

  • Psychiatric injury—other legal relationships
  • Pre-existing legal relationships
  • Duty not to cause ‘pure’ psychiatric harm

Psychiatric injury—other legal relationships

Pre-existing legal relationships

Sometimes psychiatric injury will occur in circumstances where there is a pre-existing legal relationship between the claimant and the defendant. There will be occasions when the nature of that relationship is such that it imposes a duty on the defendant to take reasonable care not to inflict psychiatric injury. For example:

  1. occupational stress cases: these provide perhaps the most obvious examples of the operation of a pre-existing legal duty not to cause ‘pure’ psychiatric harm. See Practice Notes: Occupational stress—introduction and Occupational stress—establishing liability

  2. health authority cases in which there is a liability for communication of distressing news: in such cases there is an established relationship between the parties. It may be foreseeable that the negligent provision of inaccurate information, or even insensitive communication of accurate information, might cause psychiatric injury. For example:

    1. a claimant suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after being told, wrongly, that his baby had died (it is noteworthy, though, that the judge’s reasoning in this case was that the claimant was entitled to recover as a primary victim)

    2. a health authority informing patients that they had been treated by health workers who carried HIV (and therefore that there was a very small risk that the infection might have been passed on to them) was under a duty when passing on that news

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