Psychological Injury Claims

It can often be easy to recognise when a person has sustained a physical injury as a result of an accident. However, a person who has sustained psychological or emotional injuries when they have experienced or been involved in an accident caused by the negligence of another, may also be entitled to claim for personal injury.
Psychological or psychiatric injuries are common when someone has been exposed to a shocking, distressing or traumatic event such as a serious accident. If an emotional reaction to the event is more than just initial shock or fear following the accident itself, and the accident was caused by the action or inaction of another party, the injured party may be able to claim for damages (compensation).
Some more common examples of psychological injury include:
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Phobias or adjustment disorder
• Anxiety
• Depression
When a traumatic event or accident takes place, there are a number of people who may have been involved or witnessed the event, not all of whom will have a successful personal injury claim. For example, when the Glasgow Bin lorry accident happened in December 2014, the victims of the crash extended far beyond only the fatalities and the physically injured. Individuals mentally affected by the accident could include; those physically injured, those in the line of danger, those who witnessed the accident directly, those who witnessed the aftermath of the accident, those who witnessed the videos of the accident on television or social media, rescuers and emergency services attending the scene and others. Accidents such as this, and the Hillsborough disaster, have led the courts to make judgements that categorise victims of accidents that will have an entitlement to claim for personal injury. As a result, there are now two categories of claimants:
Primary Victims
A primary victim is someone who has been directly involved in an accident; either having been physically injured themselves or considered to be within the area of danger, at risk of physical injury.
Secondary Victims
A secondary victim is someone who has witnessed the death or injury of others but was not personally at risk of physical injury. This category of victim will need to satisfy a further three criteria:
1. that the person has a close tie of love and affection with the injured person (for example a spouse, civil partner, child, parent or particularly close family member or friend);
2. that the psychiatric injury is caused by ‘shock’ from the sight or sound of the horrifying event; and
3. that the person witnessed the accident happen or was at the location of the accident for its ‘immediate aftermath’.

This came up in an action raised by a person who was at the scene of the Glasgow Bin Lorry crash when the accident took place and consequently suffered from PTSD. In Weddle v Glasgow City Council, Ms Weddle was walking and looking at her phone near the crash site. She heard a loud bang which she had believed to have been the lorry hitting a taxi, however it turned out to be the lorry hitting a bin. Evidence showed that both the taxi and the lorry had been travelling away from her and that there was never any risk of physical injury to Ms Weddle. It was held that, her injury was not related to her terror of being hit by the vehicle, rather the horror of witnessing the aftermath of the accident. In these circumstances, she was not defined as a “primary victim” and she did not meet the “secondary victim” criteria, thus she was not entitled to claim for damages.
Each case is decided on its own facts and this can be a complex area of personal injury law.
If you think that you may have suffered a psychological injury, as well as (or independently of) physical injuries, because of an accident, you may be entitled to damages. This can include compensation for past and future pain and suffering, financial support for rehabilitation and medical treatment as well as past and future financial losses.
Get in touch with Gemma Thomson or Graham Laughton, experienced solicitors in our Personal Injury Team, for a free initial consultation to discuss your options.
Author: Gemma Thomson, Solicitor, Personal Injury Team

March 24, 2021