Alcock and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police: HL 28 Nov 1991

The plaintiffs sought damages for nervous shock. They had watched on television, as their relatives and friends, 96 in all, died at a football match, for the safety of which the defendants were responsible. The defendant police service had not defended a claim of negligence in their management of safety at the match at Hillsborough football stadium. They appealed against a decision that they had been insufficiently proximate to claim for nervous shock.
Held: The claim failed. The personal relationships were close enough for some claimants, but the scenes were broadcast in such a way that no individuals were capable of being identified. Foreseeability of injury does not of itself, and automatically, lead to a duty of care.
The House (Lord Oliver) distinguished between primary and secondary victims: ‘Broadly [the cases] divide into two categories, that is to say, those cases in which the injured plaintiff was involved, either mediately or immediately, as a participant, and those in which the plaintiff was no more than the passive and unwilling witness of injury caused to others.’ and
‘There is, to begin with, nothing unusual or peculiar in the recognition by the law that compensatable injury may be caused just as much by a direct assault upon the mind or the nervous system as by direct physical contact with the body. This is no more than the natural and inevitable result of the growing appreciation by modern medical science of recognisable causal connections between shock to the nervous system and physical or psychiatric illness. Cases in which damages are claimed for directly inflicted injuries of this nature may present difficulties of proof but they are not, in their essential elements, any different from cases where the damages claimed arise from direct physical injury and they present no very difficult problems of analysis where the plaintiff has himself been directly involved in the accident from which the injury is said to arise. In such a case he can be properly said to be the primary victim of the defendant’s negligence and the fact that the injury which he sustains is inflicted through the medium of an assault on the nerves or senses does not serve to differentiate the case, except possibly in the degree of evidentiary difficulty, from a case of direct physical injury.’

Lord Keith of Kinkel, Lord Ackner, Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle and Lord Lowry
Gazette 22-Jan-1992, [1991] 3 WLR 1057, Times 29-Nov-1991, [1992] 1 AC 310, [1991] UKHL 5
lip, Bailii
Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1944 4(5)
England and Wales
CitedBourhill v Young’s Executor HL 5-Aug-1942
When considering claims for damages for shock, the court only recognised the action lying where the injury by shock was sustained ‘through the medium of the eye or the ear without direct contact.’ Wright L said: ‘No doubt, it has long ago been . .
CitedMcLoughlin v O’Brian HL 6-May-1982
The plaintiff was the mother of a child who died in an horrific accident, in which her husband and two other children were also injured. She was at home at the time of the accident, but went to the hospital immediately when she had heard what had . .
CitedJaensch v Coffey 20-Aug-1984
(High Court of Australia) The claimant’s husband was injured. She saw his injuries at hospital and was affected. She claimed damages for her own shock.
Held: The driver owed her a duty of care, and was liable for negligence which caused . .
CitedHinz v Berry CA 1970
Then plaintiff saw her husband killed and her children injured by a runaway motor car. At trial she was awarded damages for nervous shock. The question was whether, having regard to the fact that she had suffered sorrow and grief it would not be to . .
DoubtedHevican v Ruane QBD 1991
The plaintiff’s son died in a car crash, and she claimed damages for nervous shock.
Held: Given the relationship, the psychological illness was reasonably foreseeable, and recoverable. . .
DoubtedRavenscroft v Rederiaktiebolaget Transatlantic 1991
. .
Appeal fromAlcock and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police CA 31-May-1991
The defendant policed a football match at which many people died. The plaintiffs, being relatives and friends of the deceased, inter alia suffered nervous shock having seen the events either from within the ground, or from outside or at home on . .
CitedCurrie v Wardrop 1927
The pursuer was walking arm in arm with her fiance when he was hit by a vehicle driven by the defender.
Held: She recovered damages for nervous shock involving apprehension for her own safety and the safety of her fiance, though he was hit and . .
CitedDooley v Cammell Laird and Co Ltd 1951
The plaintiff was a crane driver whose load of timber, drums of paint, and bags of bolts etc, and without any fault on his part, fell into the hold of a ship as they were being lowered along with scaffolding. No one was actually injured but the . .
CitedDonoghue (or M’Alister) v Stevenson HL 26-May-1932
Decomposed Snail in Ginger Beer Bottle – Liability
The appellant drank from a bottle of ginger beer manufactured by the defendant. She suffered injury when she found a half decomposed snail in the liquid. The glass was opaque and the snail could not be seen. The drink had been bought for her by a . .

Cited by:
CitedKeen v Tayside Contracts OHCS 26-Feb-2003
The claimant sought damages for post traumatic stress disorder. He was a road worker instructed to attend by the defendant immediately after a terrible accident.
Held: It was a classic case of nervous shock. He was not a rescuer, and nor had . .
CitedGiullietta Galli-Atkinson v Seghal CA 21-Mar-2003
The claimant’s daughter was fatally injured in car accident, dying shortly after. The mother came upon the scene, witnessed a police cordon at the scene of the accident and was told of her death. She later saw the injuries at the mortuary and . .
CitedWhite, Frost and others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire and others HL 3-Dec-1998
No damages for Psychiatric Harm Alone
The House considered claims by police officers who had suffered psychiatric injury after tending the victims of the Hillsborough tragedy.
Held: The general rules restricting the recovery of damages for pure psychiatric harm applied to the . .
CitedSalter v UB Frozen Chilled Foods OHCS 25-Jul-2003
The pursuer was involved in an accident at work, where his co-worker died. He suffered only psychiatric injury.
Held: Being directly involved, the pursuer was a primary victim, and accordingly not subject to the limits on claiming for . .
CitedAB and others v Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, Cardiff and Vale NHS Trust QBD 26-Mar-2004
Representative claims were made against the respondents, hospitals, pathologists etc with regard to the removal of organs from deceased children without the informed consent of the parents. They claimed under the tort of wrongful interference.
CitedNobes, Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police v Schofield CA 14-May-1998
A police constable was entitled to claim damages for nervous shock after a co-officer unexpectedly and unlawfully fired off shots from a gun they had found as part of a search. . .
CitedDonachie v The Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police CA 7-Apr-2004
The claimant had been asked to work under cover. The surveillance equipment he was asked to use was faulty, requiring him to put himself at risk repeatedly to maintain it resulting in a stress disorder and a stroke.
Held: There was a direct . .
CitedJD v East Berkshire Community Health NHS Trust and others HL 21-Apr-2005
Parents of children had falsely and negligently been accused of abusing their children. The children sought damages for negligence against the doctors or social workers who had made the statements supporting the actions taken. The House was asked if . .
CitedRothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd and Another CA 26-Jan-2006
Each claimant sought damages after being exposed to asbestos dust. The defendants resisted saying that the injury alleged, the development of pleural plaques, was yet insufficient as damage to found a claim.
Held: (Smith LJ dissenting) The . .
CitedPage v Smith HL 12-May-1995
The plaintiff was driving his car when the defendant turned into his path. Both cars suffered considerable damage but the drivers escaped physical injury. The Plaintiff had a pre-existing chronic fatigue syndrome, which manifested itself from time . .
CitedFrench and others v Chief Constable of Sussex Police CA 28-Mar-2006
The claimants sought damages for psychiatric injury. They were police officers who had been subject to unsuccessful proceedings following a shooting of a member of the public by their force.
Held: The claim failed: ‘these claimants have no . .
CitedToth v Jarman CA 19-Jul-2006
The claimant appealed dismissal of his claim for damages for nervous shock, associated with the alleged negligence of the defendant doctor in treating his son. It was said that the medical expert had not disclosed a conflict of interest.
Held: . .
CitedCalvert v William Hill Credit Ltd ChD 12-Mar-2008
The claimant said that the defendant bookmakers had been negligent in allowing him to continue betting when they should have known that he was acting under an addiction. The defendant company had a policy for achieving responsible gambling, . .
CitedYearworth and others v North Bristol NHS Trust CA 4-Feb-2009
The defendant hospital had custody of sperm samples given by the claimants in the course of fertility treatment. The samples were effectively destroyed when the fridge malfunctioned. Each claimant was undergoing chemotherapy which would prevent them . .
CitedTaylor v A Novo (UK) Ltd CA 18-Mar-2013
The deceased had suffered a head injury at work from the defendant’s admitted negligence. She had been making a good recovery but then collapsed and died at home from pulmonary emboli, and thrombosis which were a consequence of the injury. The . .
CitedLiverpool Women’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v Ronayne CA 17-Jun-2015
The respondent was an experienced ambulance driver. His wife underwent emergency treatment at the appellant’s hospital. He had claimed as a secondary victim for the distress he suffered witnessing her suffering.
Held: The hospital’s appeal . .
CitedSmith v Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and Another QBD 8-Sep-2016
The claimant had cohabited with the deceased: ‘The claimant seeks a declaration in one of two alternative forms:
i) Pursuant to s.3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 . . that s.1A(2)(a) of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 . . is to be read as including . .
CitedPaul and Another v The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust QBD 4-Jun-2020
Nervous shock – liability to third parties
The claimants witnessed the death of their father from a heart attack. They said that the defendant’s negligent treatment allowed the attack to take place. Difficult point of law about the circumstances in which a defendant who owes a duty of care . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Damages, Personal Injury

Leading Case

Updated: 02 November 2021; Ref: scu.174247