McFarlane v EE Caledonia Ltd

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McFarlane v EE Caledonia Ltd [1995] 2 All ER 1



The claimant (C) was on board a vessel which was called upon to attend to the serious fire that had broken out on the oil rig “Piper Alpha”, which was owned and operated by the defendant (D). The fire caused significant loss of life and a number of very serious injuries, although none were witnessed directly by C as he assisted in providing fire-fighting and rescue services, as his boat was too far from the scene. As a result of his experiences C suffered psychiatric injury, subsequently bringing an action in negligence against D.


The principal issue on appeal was whether D owed a duty of care to C. It was assumed at first instance that a duty was owed to those workers on the rig to exercise reasonable care in preventing injury or death, and that breach of this duty had caused C to suffer psychiatric damage. Counsel for D argued, however, that this did not resolve the question of whether D owed a duty of care to C himself, as a later participant the event, as it was not foreseeable that a person in C’s circumstances would suffer psychiatric harm as a result of D’s breach of duty to its workers.


Finding in favour of D, the Court of Appeal held that no duty of care was owed by D with respect to see. At no point was D in physical danger, nor did he reasonably believe this was so, and he did not participate as a rescuer; he could not, therefore, be a primary victim. Moreover, C did not meet the criteria to be considered as a secondary victim, thus D could not be liable for the harm he suffered.

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