Hinz v Berry [1970] 2 QB 40

NEGLIGENCE – PSYCHIATRIC DAMAGE – DUTY OF CARE

Facts

The plaintiff (P) and her husband were out driving for the afternoon with their four children and four children whom they were currently fostering. The group stopped in a lay-by for a picnic and the plaintiff took one of the children across the road to pick flowers. The defendant, Mr Berry (D), was driving recklessly and crashed into the couple’s van, where the plaintiff’s husband and the other children were making preparations. Most of the children suffered injuries, and the plaintiff’s husband was so seriously hurt by the crash that he died at the scene three hours later. P witnessed the entire event and its aftermath, developing long-term ‘morbid depression’ as a consequence. 

P had successfully sued D for negligence and had been awarded damages for, amongst other things, the ‘nervous shock’ she had suffered and an appeal was lodged by D.

Issues

In this case it fell to be determined in which circumstances a person could recover damages for purely nervous shock caused by the negligence of the defendant and, where damages were so recoverable, how quantum fell to be determined, as it was alleged by D that the sum awarded at first instance (£4000) was excessive.

Held

C, being a person who would foreseeably suffer psychiatric harm as a consequence of D’s negligence, was entitled to compensation; she was not so remote a victim as to be outside the contemplation of D and had suffered recognised psychiatric harm, rather than non-clinical grief or sorrow, which is not compensatable. Moreover, although considered to be on the high side, the quantum of damages awarded to C could not be described as wholly erroneous and thus would not be revisited.