Hinz 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 overcompensate her by failing to make a deduction for the sorrow and grief which was otherwise not compensable.
Held: A plaintiff who suffered from extreme grief, including a case where the condition of the sufferer was debilitating, but which fell short of a recognised psychiatric illness was not able to recover damages. Personal injury at law connotes serious trauma or illness.
Lord Denning said: ‘The law at one time said that there could not be damages for nervous shock; but for these last twenty-five years, it has been settled that damages can be given for nervous shock caused by the sight of an accident, at any rate to a close relative.’ and ‘In English law no damages are awarded for grief and sorrow caused by a person’s death. No damages are to be given for the worry about the children, or for the financial strain or stress, or the difficulties of adjusting to a new life. Damages are however recoverable for nervous shock, or, to put it in medical terms, for any recognisable psychiatric illness caused by the breach of duty by the defendant.’ Also he said: ‘It happened on April 19, 1964. It was bluebell time in Kent’
Sir Gordon Wilmer discussed setting damages for this kind of injury: ‘It is practically impossible to find any signposts on the road; there is no tariff or pattern of awards in this class of case; and this makes it difficult for any one judge to criticize another’s estimate of what the damages ought to be.’
Lord Pearson said: ‘The first factor was her own inevitable grief and sorrow at losing her husband, a good husband who was also a good father to her family. That would have caused much sorrow and mourning in any event. Secondly, there was her anxiety about the welfare of her children who were injured in the accident. Thirdly, there was the financial stress resulting from the removal of this very hard-working breadwinner who took extra work in addition to his normal work. She may well have been in considerable financial difficulties. The fourth factor was the need for adjusting herself to a new life, which may well have been quite unusually severe in this case. Now, all those four factors are not compensatible, that is to say that they are not proper subjects to be taken into account in assessing damages according to English law.’ and ‘It should not be for the whole of the mental anguish and suffering which she has been enduring during the last five or six years. It should be only for that additional element which has been contributed by the shock of witnessing the accident, and which would not have occurred if she had not suffered that shock. It is a difficult distinction to draw, but I think the judge has laid a proper foundation and has found a right ground of decision, namely, that where there is an extra element which has been added by the shock of witnessing the accident, that is a proper subject of compensation. On his findings in this case that that element in itself was the sole cause of the added morbidity, the recognisable psychiatric element in her present condition, that is a proper ground for a substantial sum of money to be awarded.’


Lord Denning, Sir Gordon Wilmer, Lord Pearson


[1970] 2 QB 40


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedAlcock 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 . .
CitedTranmore v T E Scudder Limited CA 28-Apr-1998
Psychiatric damage following the death of a son after alleged negligence by defendant. . .
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 . .
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 . .
CitedReilly and Another v Merseyside Regional Health Authority CA 28-Apr-1994
. .
CitedVernon v Bosley (2) CA 29-Mar-1996
The defendant had been driving the plaintiff’s daughters, but negligently caused an accident from which they died. The plaintiff was called to the accident, and claimed to have suffered post traumatic stress. The defendant said that the effect was . .
CitedZurich Insurance Plc UK Branch v International Energy Group Ltd SC 20-May-2015
A claim had been made for mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos, but the claim arose in Guernsey. Acknowledging the acute difficultis particular to the evidence in such cases, the House of Lords, in Fairchild. had introduced the Special Rule . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury, Damages

Updated: 05 May 2022; Ref: scu.180107