Secondary victims of personal injury + negligence

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A senior judge has recently given judgment at an appeal hearing in a personal injury case concerning the issue of secondary victims. Secondary victim refers to someone who witnesses a traumatic event, such as the death of a loved one, and is psychologically harmed by the experience.

Gabrielle Artess of Barcan Woodward’s clinical negligence team looks at the recent case of Taylor v A Novo Ltd.

Case study

Three weeks after an accident at work, Mrs Taylor collapsed and died suddenly as a result of deep vein thrombosis caused by her injuries. Tragically, Mrs Taylor’s daughter witnessed her unexpected death and, as a result, suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a very severe psychological injury.

Mrs Taylor’s daughter made a claim against her mother’s employer, Novo Ltd, for her mother’s injury. She also made a claim in her own right.

Novo admitted that their negligence had caused Mrs Taylor’s accident; however the issue before the Court of Appeal was whether her daughter could be awarded damages for the trauma of witnessing the death of her mother, even though she wasn’t there at the time of the accident.

In reaching their decision, the Court of Appeal referred to the three rules regarding secondary victims set down following the Hillsborough football stadium disaster. One of the rules is that the secondary victim must’ve been present during the accident or event, or at its immediate aftermath.

Mrs Taylor’s daughter argued that the relevant ‘accident or event’ was the death itself; however her argument was rejected.

The Court maintained that only the original work accident was relevant, and as she hadn’t witnessed this, she couldn’t claim for damages for her psychiatric injury.

But what about cases involving clinical negligence, where the ‘accident’ or ‘event’ is negligent medical treatment?

In many cases, secondary victims won’t have witnessed the negligent medical treatment of the patient because it occurred during surgery, for example. Alternatively, there may be no ‘accident’ to witness, because the negligence took the form of an omission such as failure to diagnose a serious illness.

Horrific scenes are therefore less likely, but witnessing the death or deterioration of a loved one some time down the line can be traumatic enough to result in a recognised psychiatric disorder being developed.

Further information

For further information about secondary victims in personal injury cases or to speak to a member of the team about a potential clinical negligence claim, contact us on 0117 325 2929 or complete our online enquiry form.


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