Psychiatric injury—secondary victims
Produced in partnership with Andrew Wilson
Psychiatric injury—secondary victims

The following PI & Clinical Negligence guidance note Produced in partnership with Andrew Wilson provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Psychiatric injury—secondary victims
  • What is a secondary victim?
  • Control mechanisms
  • Class of persons
  • Proximity
  • Mechanism of injury—‘a sudden and horrifying event’?
  • Practical considerations

What is a secondary victim?

A primary victim is a claimant who was directly involved as a participant in the incident that caused their psychiatric injury. See Practice Note: Psychiatric injury—primary victims.

A secondary victim is one who suffers psychiatric injury not by being directly involved in the incident but by witnessing it and either:

  1. seeing injury being sustained by a primary victim, or

  2. fearing injury to a primary victim

See further Practice Note: Secondary victims—the developing case law.

Control mechanisms

It is not sufficient, in the case of injury to a secondary victim, for the claimant to show that as a result of apprehending the infliction of physical injury or the risk of it to another person they have sustained nervous shock which caused psychiatric illness.

The courts have laid down strict control mechanisms with the aim of limiting numbers of what could possibly be a multiplicity of claims arising from a single tragic incident.

The control mechanisms can be viewed as setting out the requirements for the existence of a duty of care in ‘bystander’ cases and were described by Hoffmann LJ in Alcock v Chief Constable of Yorkshire Police. The claimant needs to prove:

  1. a close tie of love and affection to the primary victim—see class of persons below

  2. proximity to the event or its immediate aftermath (in time