Bourhill v Young – 1943

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Last modified: 07/03/18 Author: In-house law team

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Bourhill v Young [1943] AC 92

NEGLIGENCE – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – DUTY OF CARE – PROXIMITY – REMOTENESS

Facts

Mr Young had been negligently riding his motorcycle and was responsible for a collision with car in which he himself suffered fatal injuries. At the time of the crash, Mrs Bourhill (C) was in the process of leaving a tram about 50 feet away. C heard the crash and, after Mr Young’s body had been removed from the scene, she approached and witnessed the immediate aftermath. C was 8 months pregnant at the time of the incident and later gave birth to a stillborn child. C subsequently brought an action against Mr Young’s estate, claiming she had suffered nervous shock, stress and sustained loss due to the negligence of D.

Issue

The principal issue on appeal to the House of Lords was whether D owed a duty of care to C. In order for such a duty to be found it had to be said that that C was both sufficiently proximate to the incident itself and, if so, that D ought reasonably to have foreseen that, in driving negligently, he might cause psychiatric damage to a person hearing the crash from C’s position.

Held

D was not liable for any psychiatric harm that C might have suffered as a result of the accident. It was not foreseeable that C would suffer psychiatric harm as a result of D negligently causing a loud traffic accident, nor was C sufficiently proximate to the scene of the crash itself. D, therefore, could owe no duty of care to C.

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