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Can I Make A Claim For Psychiatric Injury After Witnessing An Accident?

A claim can be brought for a psychological injury whether you were involved in an accident (a primary victim) or if you witnessed a loved one being involved in an accident (secondary victim).

Primary and secondary victims

The starting point therefore is to identify who are primary and secondary victims.

A primary victim of an accident is someone who was actually involved in the accident. An example would be of someone who is driving their car and is involved in a collision caused by someone else’s fault. In these circumstances you may suffer physical and psychological injuries as a result of the accident and can bring a claim for personal injury.

A secondary victim on the other hand is someone who has not been directly involved in an accident but suffers a psychiatric injury as a result of witnessing an accident that was someone else’s fault, or saw the immediate aftermath of the accident which caused fear of injury, injury or death of a loved one.

This blog is intended to deal with the prospect of bringing a claim for psychiatric injury as a secondary victim as a result of witnessing a loved one being involved in an accident and it’s aftermath.

I currently represent a client who suffered psychiatric injuries as a result of witnessing her three young children being injured due to the bedroom ceiling collapsing on them whilst they were sleeping as a result of an ongoing water leak. My client suffered a psychological injury including shock, anxiety and nightmares.

Top 5 Frequently Asked Questions

I have set out the following Q&As to help identify the process of bringing a claim for psychiatric injury as a secondary victim:

1. What is a psychiatric injury?

Psychiatric injury may involve anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In order to make a successful claim you will need to show that the psychiatric injury was caused as a result of an accident/event that was someone’s fault. General upset for a limited period will not be sufficient. Medical evidence from an independent medical expert will need to be obtained to support any psychiatric injury.

2.  How can I make a successful claim for psychiatric injury as a secondary victim?

Following the Hillsborough disaster the House of Lords in the case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire set out the control mechanism which have to be met in order to make a successful claim. The tests are as follows:

  • I. The secondary victim has to have close ties of love and affection with the injured person (primary victim). They could be a spouse, parent or child.
  • II. The injury to the secondary victim was reasonably foreseeable.
  • III. The secondary victim has to witness the accident or the immediate aftermath. In order to bring a successful claim you need to be present at the accident or immediately afterwards. This is because there is a requirement to show proximity to the accident in terms of time and space. An example would be a secondary witness witnessing a car crash causing injury or death to a loved one.
  • IV. The secondary victim has to suffer a recognisable psychiatric injury caused by the Defendant’s negligence. This could involve Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD) and general psychological injury such as nightmares, flashbacks and depression. The process of going through normal grief will not meet this test.
  • V. The injury was caused by sudden nervous shock.

3. Can I make a successful claim even if I don’t meet all the control tests as set out in the case of Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire

It is unlikely your case will be successful if you do not meet all of the control tests as set out in the case of Alcock. The law in relation to secondary victims and psychiatric injury is complex and the courts have tried to deal with the test of proximity in subsequent cases which have come before the Court.

Whether a secondary victim claim for psychiatric injury is likely to be successful will be dependent on the specific facts of the case and legal advice should be sought as early as possible.

If you think you have met this criteria, or are unsure and want some advice please do not hesitate to contact us on the number below.

4. What should you do after a psychiatric injury?

You should consult your GP and seek medical attention for any ongoing symptoms. You may have difficulties sleeping and carrying on with your daily activated such as work. This will help you get early treatment. Your GP may refer you for counselling or prescribe medication if necessary.

5. Is there a time period to bring a claim?

The time period for bringing a claim for psychiatric injury for secondary victims is 3 years from the date of the accident/event or 3 years from the time you first became aware that you have suffered a psychiatric injury as a result of the accident/event. It is important to bring a claim before the expiry of the 3 year period otherwise your claim will be statute barred.

If you have suffered a psychiatric injury due to someone’s else negligence and wish to discuss your situation with our leading personal injury solicitors, please call us today on 0808 115 0571 or request a call back online.