Victorian Railway Commissioners v Coultas: PC 21 Jan 1888

(Victoria) The appellant’s gatekeeper had negligently invited the plaintiffs to cross a railway line as a train approached. There was no collision, but the plaintiff sought damages for physical and mental injuries from shock.
Held: The defendant’s appeal on liability succeeded. It was difficult, if not impossible, to recover damages for ‘illness which was the effect of shock caused by fright’. Such injury was regarded as being too remote a head of damages in an action for negligence. There would be evidential difficulty in deciding upon the causes of psychiatric symptoms. Mere sudden terror unaccompanied by actual physical injury could not in such circumstances be considered a consequence which in the ordinary course would flow from the negligence of the gate keeper.
‘Damages arising from mere sudden terror unaccompanied by any actual physical injury, but occasioning a nervous or mental shock, cannot under such circumstances, their Lordships think, be considered a consequence which, in the ordinary course of things, would flow from the negligence of the gate-keeper. If it were held that they can, it appears to their Lordships that it would be extending the liability for negligence much beyond what that liability has hitherto been held to be.’

Fitzgeral, Hobnouse LL, Sir Barnes Peacock, Sir Richard Couch
(1888) 13 App Cas 222, [1888] UKPC 3, (1888) LR 13 App Cas 222
Cited by:
DistinguishedWilkinson v Downton 8-May-1997
Thomas Wilkinson, the landlord of a public house, went off by train, leaving his wife Lavinia behind the bar. A customer of the pub, Downton played a practical joke on her. He told her, falsely, that her husband had been involved in an accident and . .
Not FollowedDulieu v White and Sons KBD 1901
A pregnant barmaid suffered nervous shock causing her to give premature birth as a result of the tortfeasor’s horse van bursting into her bar at the Bonner Arms in Bethnal Green from the roadway. The defendant pleaded that the damages claimed were . .
CitedWainwright and another v Home Office HL 16-Oct-2003
The claimant and her son sought to visit her other son in Leeds Prison. He was suspected of involvement in drugs, and therefore she was subjected to strip searches. There was no statutory support for the search. The son’s penis had been touched . .
CitedAlcock 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 . .
CitedOPO v MLA and Another CA 9-Oct-2014
The claimant child sought to prevent publication by his father of an autobiography which, he said, would be likely to cause him psychological harm. The father was well known classical musician who said that he had himself suffered sexual abuse as a . .
CitedRhodes v OPO and Another SC 20-May-2015
The mother sought to prevent a father from publishing a book about her child’s life. It was to contain passages she said may cause psychological harm to the 12 year old son. Mother and son lived in the USA and the family court here had no . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Damages

Updated: 30 December 2021; Ref: scu.186859