Psychiatric injury—primary victims

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

  • Psychiatric injury—primary victims
  • Defining the primary victim
  • Classes of primary victim
  • Direct involvement
  • Rescue
  • Unwilling participation
  • Other categories of primary victim
  • Must psychiatric injury be foreseeable?
  • Examples of primary victim cases

Psychiatric injury—primary victims

Defining the primary victim

A primary victim is a claimant who was directly involved as a participant in the incident that caused their psychiatric injury.

Classes of primary victim

Lord Oliver in Alcock v Chief Constable South Yorkshire provided three examples of claimants who he would classify as primary victims:

Direct involvement

The claimant was within the actual area of physical danger when the accident occurred or reasonably believed at the time that they were in danger.


The House of Lords in White v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police clarified that rescuers are not a special category of primary victim. If the claimant was a rescuer who went to the aid of others involved in an accident, they will only be defined as a primary victim if they were, or reasonably believed themselves to be, in danger. If a rescuer does not meet this test, then they will be classified as a secondary victim and will therefore need to satisfy the control mechanisms before they can recover damages for psychiatric injury.

Unwilling participation

Lord Oliver in Alcock also suggested primary victims include claimants who involuntarily caused the death or injury of a third party because of the defendant’s negligence or reasonably believed that they had done so. Again, it is doubtful whether this distinct category has survived White. In Hunter v British Coal, the court refused compensation to a

Popular documents