Nervous Shock: Can you claim damages for the psychiatric illness?


Nervous shock is a psychiatric illness which occurs when a person witnesses an accident or its aftermath as a bystander. Nervous shock as the name suggests is a state of shock a person finds himself in after witnessing an accident. The Hillsborough disaster has played an important role in setting the rules and legal standards for contemporary English law on the psychiatric illness of nervous shock and standard of proof required to succeed in a claim for damages.

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What is on this page?

  • Introduction to claims under psychiatric illness
  • General rule
  • Meaning of close relationship
  • Rescuers
  • Communicator of the shocking news

General Rule

In English law, as a general rule, no damages are awarded for grief or sorrow caused by another person’s death. However, if a person is physically injured or where he is been placed in physical danger and suffers from a  nervous shock, as a result, can claim for damages.

Generally, the nervous shock arises when a person is either involved in the accident (physical injury) or where he witnesses the accident or its aftermath


  • Martin is involved in an accident and he has suffered injuries but also developed the psychiatric illness. As a victim of an accident along with personal injury, he can also claim for Psychiatric illness. (actual physical injury and nervous shock)
  • Julie has witnessed the death of her daughter in an accident and subsequently has developed a psychiatric illness.
  • Frank a rescuer attended a fire disaster at a tower block and witnessed the dead people and destruction of property. Frank now suffers from the nervous shock.

Where a person who suffers from nervous shock by witnessing the death, injury or imperilment of another person (accident) and with whom he/she has a close relationship of love and affection, that person can also claim damages for psychiatric illness occurred as a result of witnessing such event.

Meaning of Close relationship

A spouse, parents and children are presumed to have a close relationship of love and affection. For anybody else who just witnessed the incident and suffered from nervous shock have to show the closeness of relationship and must bring evidence to prove such close ties of love and affection.


  • Anil attended the hospital, where his son was brought after a car accident and witnessed his death. He subsequently developed a psychiatric illness. Anil as a father may have a successful claim for damages, as a father he does not have to prove close ties or relationship of love and affection.
  • Chris witnessed a road traffic accident and death of his friend and developed psychiatric illness in order to claim damages for psychiatric illness Chris must prove a relationship of close ties, affection and love.


Courts have treated rescuers favourably; a person also owes a duty of care to rescuers as it is his/her acts or omissions which have resulted in the occurrence of a tragedy. Any rescuer who subsequently develops a psychiatric illness by witnessing the tragedy while conducting rescue operation is likely to have a successful claim for damages without having to prove any relationship of love or affection with victims.

Communicator of the shocking news

The communicator of the shocking news, when disclosed appropriately, will not be held responsible for any psychiatric harm. However, if the shocking news is disclosed in an inappropriate manner or in a manner which resulted in a nervous shock for the recipient then the communicator of the shocking news will be held responsible. This is the very reason there are trained people within police, social services and health department who communicate the shocking news to the relatives, parents and other associated people.

“Psychiatrist illness of nervous shock is a complex area of negligence and tort law. At legalally, we offer a free consultation with our experienced personal injury lawyers. We also pursue most cases on no win no fee bases. For further legal advice, you can speak to our experienced lawyers instantly through any device from anywhere in the world at a time that suits you.”

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