Compensation for nervous shock and psychological injury in NI

Compensation for nervous shock and psychological injury in Northern Ireland

16th February, 2023

When someone is injured following a road traffic accident, accident at work or due to the negligence of another person (such as in a clinical negligence claim), they may suffer both a physical injury and/or a psychological one. The victim is entitled to separate compensation for each type of injury. Psychological injuries include post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and panic attacks.

To make a successful claim for compensation for psychological injury in NI, a victim must show:

They suffered from a recognisable psychiatric illness.

Mental distress, emotional upset or shock falling short of a recognisable psychiatric illness is not compensatable. You do not have to suffer a physical injury that in turn leads to the psychological injury. You may make a claim for compensation for psychological injury alone as long as it is a recognised psychiatric illness.

Such recognisable psychiatric illness was shock induced.

You must show that your psychiatric injury was due to the accident or incident that led to it. The fact that one person may in similar circumstances not have developed a psychiatric illness is irrelevant. Law takes a victim as it finds him or her – as long as the illness arises from the negligent event, it is potentially compensatable.

That such shock was caused by another person’s negligence.

You must show (as in all accidents which attract compensation) that the person who caused the injury owed a duty of care to you and that they breached that duty of care and as a result you sustained your injury be it physical, mental or both. For instance if you were in a road traffic accident that was not your fault, the road user that caused the accident would be in breach of their duty of care to you and would be liable to you in damages for any injury, physical and/or mental you sustained. Similarly if you were hurt in an accident at work, your employer would owe a duty of care to you and if their negligence caused you an injury, physical and/or mental, then you would be entitled to make a claim against them.

In a case before the Circuit Court in Ireland in 2000 a woman employee suffered a psychiatric illness when she switched on a machine without realising there was a workman inside the machine. Her illness was due to what had happened to her and she sued her employer for damages. The Judge held that the employer was in breach of their duty of care to her in failing to take care of the safety of employees and that the harm suffered by the employee was reasonably foreseeable. She was awarded damages.

That such shock must have been by reason of actual or apprehended physical injury.

This is normally straightforward where the victim was involved or participated in the event. For instance if you were involved in a road traffic accident with another driver that was not your fault and you developed a psychological condition as a result of the accident, whether together with physical injuries or not, the other driver will be responsible for compensating you for your loss as it arose directly from being there and your actual or apprehended physical injury. In such circumstances you are called a “primary victim”.

Compensation for “secondary victims”.

There is a second set of potential victims that we call “secondary victims” who are themselves not in physical danger but who have developed psychiatric disease as a result of witnessing the injury or death of the primary victim but not first hand so to speak. For instance, if a loved one was hurt in an accident that was not their fault and you saw their injuries immediately afterwards in hospital and you developed a psychiatric illness as a result of what you saw in hospital – would you have a claim for such illness against the person who caused your loved one’s accident?

The leading case in this area of law is Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire (1991). This case arose from the Hillsborough disaster. The claimants were all friends, family or relatives of those who had died in the stadium. The overcrowding in the stadium was due to police negligence. Some of the victims were there in the stadium, some of them at home watching events unfold in front of the TV and some suffered harm when told what had happened or saw their loved ones’ bodies in the morgue.

In that case, the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court) held that for a secondary victim to recover compensation the following conditions must be satisfied:

  • the psychiatric injury must arise from witnessing the injury/death of the primary victim
  • the injury must arise from shock
  • there are close ties of love and affection between the primary and secondary victims
  • the secondary victim was either present at the scene of the incident or a short time later
  • injury of that type to the secondary victim was reasonably foreseeable

 One can therefore obtain compensation as a secondary victim but only in very specific circumstances.

What compensation will I receive for injuries sustained in an accident?

This will depend on the nature of your injuries and your financial loss. It will include:

This will depend on the severity of your psychological illness and any financial loss arising from it. It will include:

  • Compensation for the pain and suffering caused by your psychological loss. The amount depends on how serious your disease process is and its impact on you
  • All your medical expenses, now and into the future
  • Any loss of earnings, now and into the future
  • Any other financial loss
  • The costs of any adaptions to your home or car because of your injuries
  • Your rehabilitation costs
  • Any care costs that have been or will be incurred because of your injuries

How long do I have to make a claim?

Normally you have three years from the date of your injury. However:

  • If your child sustains injury, a claim can be made any time before the child reaches the age of 18. Once your child reaches the age of 18, they have a further three years to make a claim themselves until they reach the age of 21.
  • If the person who sustains the injury does not have mental capacity then there are no time limits.

Why choose the Kearney Law Group?

We, at the Kearney Law Group, are ready to assist you and have the knowledge and expertise you need to make a successful claim for compensation. We have an expert team ready to deal with your claim.  We will ensure you recover compensation for your injuries, swiftly and professionally.

We only do personal injury law and are experts at it.

For further assistance please ring us at 02890 912 938 or email us on [email protected] or fill in our contact form

The content of this blog is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice. No solicitor/client relationship or duty of care or liability of any nature shall exist or arise between the Kearney Law Group and you and we refer you to our disclaimer on our website.

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