October 3, 2023

Obligate Law

Professional Law Makers

A Tort Action in a Case for Damages for Nervous Shock

2 min read

The action on the case for damages, is available for the intentional infliction of physical harm caused indirectly or consequentially as in Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QB 57. It is also available for the intentional infliction of nervous shock caused indirectly or consequentially. But what is nervous shock? Lord Denning in Hinz v. Berry [1970] 2 QB 40,42 described it as any recognisable psychiatric illness. It has also been described in Australian law is a lasting disorder of the mind or body, some form of psychological neurosis or a psychosomatic illness, the starting point of which is usually emotional distress. Lord will force has described it as that recognisable and severe physical damage to the human body and system which is caused by the impact, through the senses, of external events on the mind. Another description of it made by a judge said that the term was imprecisely used by lawyers to describe some forms of psycho neurosis and mental illness.

If the defendant tells the plaintiff that if she does not hand over certain documents you will be corrupt and the plaintiff suffers nervous shock as a result of the direct and immediate threat the proper action to bring is an action for trespassed to the person. But if the defendant tells the plaintiff falsely that he is a detective from Scotland Yard and unless she hands over certain documents she will be charged with espionage by the military authorities and the plaintiff suffers nervous shock as a result of the false statements and threats than the proper action to bring is an action on the case for damages for nervous shock, as there is no threat of imminent and direct bodily contact, which is a necessary requirement of the tort of trespassed.

The factual situation in the example which has just been outlined was the case in Janiver v Sweeney [1919] 2 KB 316. The plaintiff worked as a maid for a lady in whose house she resided. She had a German fiancee who was into. The defendant, a private detective, who is anxious to retrieve some letters that were in the possession of the plaintiff’s employer, called at the house and told the plaintiff that he was a detective inspector from Scotland Yard representing the military authorities and that she was a woman they wanted as she was corresponding with a German spy. The statements were false. The plaintiff was extremely frightened and claimed that, as a result, she suffered from a severe nervous shock including shingles and other ailments. The jury found the statements were calculated to cause physical injury to the plaintiff and the illness from which the plaintiffs suffered was caused by the utterance of the statements. This is the leading case in relation to the claiming of damages for nervous shock.

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