White, 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 plaintiffs’ claims as employees. An employer has a duty to protect his employees from physical but not psychiatric harm unless there was also a physical injury. A rescuer, not himself exposed to physical risk by being involved in a rescue was a secondary victim, and as such not entitled to claim. Primary victims are ‘victims who are imperilled or reasonably believe themselves to be imperilled by the defendant’s negligence’.
Lord Steyn said: ‘the law on the recovery of compensation for pure psychiatric harm is a patchwork quilt of distinctions which are difficult to justify. The first is to wipe out recovery in tort for pure psychiatric injury. The case for such a course has been argued by Professor Stapleton. But that would be contrary to precedent and, in any event, highly controversial. Only Parliament could take such a step. The second solution is to abolish all the special limiting rules applicable to psychiatric harm. That appears to be the course advocated by Mullany and Handford, Tort Liability for Psychiatric Damage. They would allow claims for pure psychiatric damage by mere bystanders: see (1997) 113 LQR 410, 415. Precedent rules out this course and, in any event, there are cogent policy considerations against such a bold innovation. In my view the only sensible general strategy for the courts is to say thus far and no further. The only prudent course is to treat the pragmatic categories as reflected in in authoritative decisions such as the Alcock case and Page v. Smith as settled for the time being, but by and large to leave any expansion or development in this corner of the law to Parliament. In reality there are no refined analytical tools which will enable the courts to draw lines by way of compromise solution in a way that is coherent and morally defensible. It must be left to Parliament to undertake the task of radical law reform.’

Lord Steyn and Lord Hoffmann, Lord Browne-Wilkinson
Gazette 13-Jan-1999, [1999] 1 All ER 1, [1999] 2 AC 455, [1998] UKHL 45, [1999] ICR 216, [1998] 3 WLR 1509, [1999] IRLR 110, (1999) 45 BMLR 1
House of Lords, Bailii
England and Wales
Appeal fromFrost and Others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire and Others CA 31-Oct-1996
The distinction normally made between primary and secondary victims claiming damages for shock in witnessing a terrible event does not apply to employees who were obliged by their contract to be present. . .
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 . .
RegrettedPage 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 . .
CitedHambrook v Stokes Brothers CA 1925
The defendant’s employee left a lorry at the top of a steep narrow street unattended, with the engine running and without having taken proper steps to secure it. The lorry ran violently down the hill. The plaintiff’s wife had been walking up the . .
CitedKing v Phillips CA 1952
Denning LJ said: ‘there can be no doubt since Bourhill v. Young that the test of liability for shock is foreseeability of injury by shock.’ A person ‘who suffers shock on being told of an accident to a loved one cannot recover damages from the . .
CitedMcFarlane v E E Caledonia Ltd CA 10-Sep-1993
The court will not extend a duty of care to mere bystanders of horrific events. Nor is any duty of care owed to a rescuer lacking ordinary courage. Whether a person is to be regarded as a rescuer will be a question of fact to be decided on the . .
CitedOverseas Tankship (UK) Ltd v Morts Dock and Engineering Co Ltd (The Wagon Mound No 1) PC 18-Jan-1961
Foreseeability Standard to Establish Negligence
Complaint was made that oil had been discharged into Sydney Harbour causing damage. The court differentiated damage by fire from other types of physical damage to property for the purposes of liability in tort, saying ‘We have come back to the plain . .
CitedChadwick v British Railways Board 1967
Mr Chadwick tried to bring relief and comfort to the victims of the Lewisham train disaster in December 1967. His widow claimed in nervous shock, saying that it had eventually led to his own death.
Held: Where an accident is of a particular . .
CitedBest v Samuel Fox and Co Ltd 1952
The court considered liability for injury to secondary victims. Lord Morton of Henryton: ‘it has never been the law of England that an invitor, who has negligently but unintentionally injured an invitee, is liable to compensate other persons who . .
CitedMount Isa Mines Ltd v Pusey 1970
The court considered how progress is made in developing the law of liability for damages for psychiatric injury, saying ‘The field is one in which the common law is still in course of development. Courts must therefore act in company and not alone. . .
CitedMalcolm v Broadhurst QBD 1970
The principle of foreseeability of psychiatric injury is subject to the qualification that, where the psychiatric injury suffered by the plaintiff is consequential upon physical injury for which the defendant is responsible in law, the defendant . .
CitedBrice v Brown 1984
The plaintiff, a lady with a hysterical personality disorder since childhood, had a minor taxi accident and then developed a major psychiatric illness – bizarre behaviour, suicide attempts, pleading with people to cut her head off – in response to a . .
CriticisedPage 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 . .
MentionedWalker v Northumberland County Council QBD 16-Nov-1994
The plaintiff was a manager within the social services department. He suffered a mental breakdown in 1986, and had four months off work. His employers had refused to provide the increased support he requested. He had returned to work, but again, did . .
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 . .

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 . .
CitedGlen and Other v Korean Airlines Company Ltd QBD 28-Mar-2003
The claimant sought damages for personal injuries under the Act. The injuries were psychiatric, being suffered when they witnessed a crash from the ground.
Held: Psychiatric injury is a recognised form of personal injury, and no statute . .
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 . .
CitedMullaney v Chief Constable of West Midlands Police CA 15-May-2001
The claimant police officer was severely injured making an arrest. He claimed damages from the respondent for contributory negligence of other officers in failing to come to his assistance.
Held: If a police officer owes a duty of care to . .
CitedMcLoughlin v Jones; McLoughlin v Grovers (a Firm) CA 2002
In deciding whether a duty of care is established the court must go to the ‘battery of tests which the House of Lords has taught us to use’, namely: ‘. . the ‘purpose’ test (Banque Bruxelles Lambert SA v Eagle Star Insurance Co Ltd); the ‘assumption . .
ConsideredCampbell v North Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Power Plc SCS 30-Jun-1999
. .
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 . .
CitedBarber v Somerset County Council HL 1-Apr-2004
A teacher sought damages from his employer after suffering a work related stress breakdown.
Held: The definition of the work expected of him did not justify the demand placed upon him. The employer could have checked up on him during his . .
CitedWaters v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis HL 27-Jul-2000
A policewoman, having made a complaint of serious sexual assault against a fellow officer complained again that the Commissioner had failed to protect her against retaliatory assaults. Her claim was struck out, but restored on appeal.
Held: . .
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 . .
CitedJohnston v NEI International Combustion Ltd; Rothwell v Chemical and Insulating Co Ltd; similar HL 17-Oct-2007
The claimant sought damages for the development of neural plaques, having been exposed to asbestos while working for the defendant. The presence of such plaques were symptomless, and would not themselves cause other asbestos related disease, but . .
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, . .
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 . .
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 . .
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 . .
CitedJames-Bowen and Others v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis SC 25-Jul-2018
The Court was asked whether the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (‘the Commissioner’) owes a duty to her officers, in the conduct of proceedings against her based on their alleged misconduct, to take reasonable care to protect them from . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Personal Injury, Police, Damages, Negligence

Leading Case

Updated: 11 November 2021; Ref: scu.158976