Chadwick v British Railways Board [1967] 1 WLR 912

NEGLIGENCE – DUTY OF CARE TO RESCUERS – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – PRIMARY VICTIMS

Facts

The claimant, Henry Chadwick (C) was described as a cheerful man who was active in his local community and ran a well-known window cleaning company. Although he had previously suffered with psycho-neurotic symptoms in 1941 there had been no subsequent recurrence.

C and his wife lived 200 yards from the scene of the Lewisham rail crash, a serious train collision that left 90 people dead and others with severe injuries. Having been informed of the crash C immediately made his way to the scene to provide assistance. C remained at the scene throughout the night.

C suffered serious psychiatric damage as a result of his experiences and was no longer able to work. C later died of an unrelated condition and his personal representatives brought an action against British Railways Board (D), whose negligence in relation to the crash was not in dispute.

Issue

The claim was disputed by D, who argued that no duty of care was owed to rescuers who might volunteer to assist at the scene of a disaster, regardless of whether the disaster itself was the product of negligence. It thus fell to be determined whether it was reasonably foreseeable both that C would attend to the scene and that he might suffer psychiatric harm as a consequence.

Held

Finding for C, the Court held that it was reasonably foreseeable that people, other than D’s employees, might try to render assistance and might suffer personal injury, physical or psychiatric, as a result. A duty of care was therefore owed to D. Moreover, there was nothing on the circumstances to suggest that the damage suffered by D was so remote as to be outside the contemplation of D.