Brice v Brown [1984] 1 All ER 997

NEGLIGENCE – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – FORESEEABILITY OF TYPE OF DAMAGE CAUSED – PRIMARY VICTIMS

Facts

C, a woman aged 42, had suffered from a hysterical personality disorder since childhood. She was, however, able to lead a normal life with her husband and family, albeit she suffered bouts of depression, hysteria and other mental health crises. Due to D's negligence as a driver he caused an accident in which C's daughter suffered what appeared to be a very serious injury. This had a severely detrimental effect on P's mental stability, leading to violent displays of temper, several attempts at suicide and, ultimately, an admission to hospital. C’s condition subsequently stabilised to agree, but C’s mental state left her in need of constant supervision. C brought an action against D for the psychiatric damage caused as a result of witnessing her daughter’s injuries.

Issue

It was contended by D that, in order to be liable in negligence for causing psychiatric harm, the extent of the damage in questionable must itself be reasonably foreseeable. As D could not have foreseen that C would be of a particularly fragile disposition, it was argued, he could not be liable in negligence.

Held

Finding in favour of C, Stuart-Smith J held that, provided ‘nervous shock’ (i.e. recognised psychiatric damage) was a foreseeable consequence of D’s actions, which was not in dispute, then there was no reason in principle to bar an action in negligence purely because the extent of the damage in question could not have been foreseen. The tortfeasor must take the victim as he or she is, the only question is whether psychiatric damage is itself a reasonably foreseeable consequence of D’s negligence.