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McLoughlin v O'Brian [1983] 1 AC 410

NEGLIGENCE – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – FORESEEABILITY – IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH OF TRAUMATIC EVENT

Facts

The husband of the claimant (C) and their children were involved in a road traffic accident at around 4 p.m. with a lorry driven by the first defendant and owned by the second defendant. C, who was home at the time, was informed of the accident at around 6 p.m. by a neighbour, who drove her to hospital to see her family. Upon arrival, she learned that her youngest daughter had been killed and witnessed the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by her husband and other children. C alleged that the impact of what she heard and saw caused her severe shock resulting in psychiatric illness and brought an action in negligence against the defendants.

Issues

It was argued by counsel for the defence that, in order to recover damages for negligently induced nervous shock, C must demonstrate that he or she is sufficiently proximate to the event in question, in that they must be present at the scene which they allege has caused them to suffer psychiatric damage. The House of Lords were thus called upon to determine the nature and extent of the duty owed by D to persons whom his actions might cause psychiatric damage.

Held

In finding for C the House of Lords emphasised that recovery in such cases was not limited to those who were participants in the event, and who feared that they or a close relative would suffer some sort of personal injuries. Citing Chadwick v British Railways Board ([1967] 1 WLR 912) the duty of D was confirmed to extend to those who came upon the ‘immediate aftermath’ of an incident, even if they do not see or hear the incident with their unaided senses.


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