Taylor v Somerset Health Authority: 1993

The plaintiff’s husband had suffered a heart attack at work and soon died at the defendant’s hospital. She went to the hospital within an hour and was told of his death by a doctor about 20 minutes after her arrival. She was shocked and distressed. She identified the body at the mortuary. The defendants had been treating him for many months and had negligently failed to diagnose or treat his serious heart disease. It was admitted that she had suffered nervous shock (ie psychiatric illness) as a result of what she had heard and seen at the hospital.
Held: The claim failed. It did not fall within the ‘immediate aftermath’ principle as her husband’s body bore no signs of violent injury. The death was instead the final consequence of negligence by the defendants many months earlier. The ‘immediate aftermath’ extension had been introduced as an exception to the general principle established in accident cases that a plaintiff could only recover damages for psychiatric injury where the accident and the primary injury or death caused by it occurred within his sight or hearing.
Auld J said: ‘There are two notions implicit in this exception cautiously introduced and cautiously continued by the House of Lords. They are of:
(i) an external, traumatic, event caused by the defendant’s breach of duty which immediately causes some person injury or death; and
(ii) a perception by the plaintiff of the event as it happens, normally by his presence at the scene, or exposure to the scene and/or to the primary victim so shortly afterwards that the shock of the event as well as of its consequence is brought home to him.
There was no such event here other than the final consequence of Mr. Taylor’s progressively deteriorating heart condition which the health authority, by its negligence many months before, had failed to arrest. In my judgment, his death at work and the subsequent transference of his body to the hospital where Mrs. Taylor was informed of what had happened and where she saw the body do not constitute such an event.’

Auld J
[1993] 4 Med LR 34, [1993] PIQR P262
England and Wales
Cited by:
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 . .
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 . .
CitedShorter v Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust QBD 25-Mar-2015
The claimant saw her sister in undeniably distressing circumstances in hospital. It was suggested that the claimant’s professional background, as a radiographer, gave her an unusual degree of insight into her sister’s medical condition and that, as . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Professional Negligence

Updated: 19 November 2021; Ref: scu.471890