As a serious and catastrophic injury practice, we have considerable experience of cases involving psychological injury. 

By their very nature, serious physical injuries are often suffered in traumatic, frightening circumstances and psychological consequences are almost inevitable.  Our cases regularly include expert medical evidence from consultant psychiatrists, psychologists, neuropsychiatrists and neuropsychologists.

In basic terms, for a claim for psychological injuries to succeed, there must be evidence that the claimant has suffered a recognised psychiatric illness – more than temporary grief or fright.

General psychiatric damage

There are a number of factors to be taken into account in connection with cases of psychiatric damage.  They include (but are not limited to):

  • The injured person’s ability to cope with life and work
  • The effect of their relationships with their family, friends and others with whom they come into contact
  • The extent to which treatment has been embraced and/or would be successful in the future
  • The long-term prognosis and any future vulnerability

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

One recognised psychiatric illness that often forms part of serious injury claims is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.  The onset of PTSD tends to be associated with a life-threatening experience or exposure to grotesque injury or death.

Symptoms that can be present in cases of PTSD include:

  • Constantly reliving the initial incident
  • Panic attacks
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pains
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of libido
  • Agoraphobia
  • Headaches
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Eating disorders
  • Restlessness
  • Extreme levels of fatigue

Secondary victims

A secondary victim is someone who witnesses an accident and suffers injury because of injury to, or fear of injury to, the primary victim.

Due to the possibility that in certain circumstances there could be many secondary victims who wish to claim for damages arising from a single accident or incident, the Courts have been anxious to limit the number of Claimants. They have achieved this by imposing a number of ‘control tests’ as set out by Lord Hoffman in Alcott –v- Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police [1992] – a famous case involving claims brought by those who had suffered psychological damage as a result of the Hillsborough disaster.

The control tests are as follows:

  1. There must be a close tie of love and affection between the Claimant and the victim
  2. The Claimant must have been present at the accident or its immediate aftermath
  3. The psychiatric injury must have been caused by a direct perception of the accident or its immediate aftermath and not by hearing about it from somebody else

It has also been held that the secondary victim in question must be of ‘reasonable fortitude’.

There have been a number of cases brought before the House of Lords in connection with the issue of secondary victims since the Hillsborough disaster.

Most recently in the case of Frost –v– Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police [1997] the House of Lords held that the police officers at the scene could only recover damages if they were exposed to physical danger as primary victims.  Since they were not endangered in the actual performance of their role as employees and/or rescuers at the scene, they were only secondary victims. As secondary victims they, like the bystanders or spectators, were not entitled to recover damages for psychiatric illness.

Injuries with a psychological component

For further information regarding the often-complex subject of ‘pain disorders’ please see our Chronic Pain section.

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