Owens v Liverpool Corporation: CA 1938

Four family mourners at a funeral appealed against rejection of their claims for damages for distress caused by witnessing a collision between a negligently driven tramcar and the hearse.The incident had involved no apprehension, or sight, or sound of physical injury to a human being.
Held: The appeal succeeded. There is a common law right to a decent burial. Nervous shock is a ‘form of ill-health’ ‘ascertainable by the physician.’
MacKinnon LJ said: ‘one who is guilty of negligence to another must put up with idiosyncracies of his victim that increase the likelihood or extent of damage to him: it is no answer to a claim for a fractured skull that its owner had an unusually fragile one.’ and ‘It may be that the plaintiffs are of that class which is peculiarly susceptible to the luxury of woe at a funeral so as to be disastrously disturbed by any untoward accident to the trappings of mourning.’
MacKinnon LJ
[1939] 1 KB 394, [1938] 4 All ER 727, 55 TLR 246
England and Wales
Cited by:

  • Disapproved – Bourhill 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 . .
    [1943] AC 92, [1943] SC (HL) 78, 1943 SLT 105, [1942] UKHL 5
  • Cited – Alcock and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police QBD 31-Jul-1990
    Overcrowding at a football match lead to the deaths of 95 people. The defendant’s employees had charge of safety at the match, and admitted negligence vis-a-vis those who had died and been injured. The plaintiffs sought damages, some of them for . .
    [1991] 2 WLR 814, [1991] CLY 2671

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 03 December 2020; Ref: scu.464385