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Tort of Negligence Duty of Care: Psychiatric Injury

  • Date Submitted: 11/04/2014 09:26 AM
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We made the point in the introduction that, depending on the type of harm inflicted, a duty of care may be imposed with greater or lesser rigour.

One type of harm for which the courts will insist on a fairly stringent test for the imposition of a duty of care is psychiatric harm (save where it occurs in conjunction with physical injury, e.g. Fryers v Belfast Health and Social Care Trust [2009] NICA 57 Court of Appeal (Northern Ireland).

What is Psychiatric Injury (PSI)?

Harm must be a medically recognized psychiatric illness. Emotional reactions do not sound in damages - but these could lead to other physical or psychiatric conditions which may be actionable: Simmons v British Steel Plc [2004] UKHL 20.

It is well settled law that damages for mental distress (grief, anxiety) are not recoverable in negligence. See Page v Smith, p. 189G, per Lord Lloyd.

Can a claim lie in negligence for fear of fatal disease or impending death?

Hicks v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police [1992] 2 All ER 65
Grieves v FT Everard & Sons [2007] UKHL 39

Contract law
Yearworth v North Bristol NHS Trust [2009] EWCA Civ 37   (bailment)

Development of Psychiatric Injury as Actionable Loss

A remedy for psychiatric harm is one area where the courts have been traditionally reluctant to recognise actionable loss.

Dulieu v White [1901] 2 KB 669: C able to recover damages for psychiatric injury stemming from actual physical injury or from a reasonable fear or apprehension of danger to their physical safety.

After this case, the extent to which claims would be tolerated was gradually expanded.

e.g., King v Phillips [1953] 1 QB 429

The Modern Law

The law in respect to negligently inflicted psychiatric injury has been shaped by historical prejudice (that psychiatric injury should be less actionable than physical injury) and tragedy, such as the Hillsborough disaster. Over the years, and throughout the decided cases, several factors...


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