Hunter v British Coal

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

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Hunter v British Coal [1998] 2 All ER 97



The claimant (C) was driving along a roadway in a mine owned by the defendant company (D) when he drove into a hydrant, causing it to leak water. After C and a fellow employee had attempted, unsuccessfully, to turn off the hydrant, C left to look for a hose so as to divert the water. While C was away the hydrant exploded, killing the other employee.

Although C did not see the fatal accident and was prevented from returning to the scene, he alleged that he had suffered shock at hearing of the death. C brought an action for damages for psychiatric injury against D, who were negligent in fulfilling their statutory duties to maintain the roadway. C’s claim was rejected, on the grounds that he did meet the necessary criteria to be described as a primary or secondary victim, and an appeal was brought.


This case called for a close consideration of the categories of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ victim set out in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 AC 310. It was argued by counsel for C that he had been involved throughout the event as a primary victim; in attempting to deal with the negligently kept hydrant, C was a participant in the event, despite having only suffered shock when he was informed of his co-worker’s death, at which point he was no longer at the scene.


In finding for D the Court of Appeal rejected C’s argument; there was no case in which a person, who had not been present at the scene of an accident and who had not come upon the scene as a rescuer, had been able to recover damages for psychiatric injury as a primary victim; C lacked the necessary physical and temporal proximity to the accident. Moreover, there was nothing in the judgment in Alcock which suggested that H could be treated as a secondary victim

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