Personal Injury, Serious Injury & Clinical Negligence

Secondary Victim Claim

Shorter v Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust [2015]

Further to our blog “Psychiatric injury claims for nervous shock” on 4th March 2015 the issues were recently examined again by the High Court in Shorter v. Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust.

The Claimant’s sister died on 13 May 2009 as the result of a subarachnoid haemorrhage arsing from an aneurysm of the right middle cerebral artery.  The Defendant admitted that they were negligent in failing to accurately report a CT scan performed on 5th May 2009 until 12th May 2009, failing to diagnose the SAH until that date and failing to transfer the Claimant’s sister to a specialist neurosurgical centre for treatment.

The Claimant claimed that the series of insults that her sister had suffered constituted a“seamless single horrendous event” (as per the Walters case discussed in our last article) witnessed by the Claimant which resulted in her sustaining nervous shock.

The Judge heard evidence of the closeness of the relationship between the sisters and by the time of the trial the Defendant had accepted that, for the purposes of this claim, the Claimant was within the class of persons who are eligible to bring a claim as a secondary victim.

The Claimant’s case was that “seamless single horrendous event” started on the morning of 12 May which she had witnessed and/or was directly and immediately involved in by sight or sound.

The Claimant had been exposed to the visual impression of her sister in the A&E Department and the added distress of being aware, because of her professional experience (she was a Senior Sister in Neuro-Intensive Care), of the implications of the news that her sister had had a bleed.  The Claimant’s evidence was that the assault on her nerves had begun when she entered the A&E Department at East Surrey Hospital and saw her sister and that therefore she had received several successive blows.  Counsel for the Claimant argued the case was comparable to Walters

The Defendant argued the case was distinguishable from Walters on the facts, since by contrast, the Claimant’s realisation of condition of  her sister came gradually, as a result of telephone calls, her own concerns and the events upon her arrival at East Surrey Hospital. 

The Judge held that the fact of the Defendant’s negligence and of its possible consequences became known to the Claimant when she received a telephone call from her sister’s husband on the morning of 12 May.  At that stage there was no element of “physical proximity” to any qualifying event.  Upon the Claimant’s attendance at the A&E Department of East Surrey Hospital, the Judge did not find that the Claimant’s sister was in such a condition that to see her could be described as a “horrifying event” or to cause “violent agitation to the mind”.

The Judge found, there were a series of different events on 12/13 May that gave rise to an accumulation during that period of gradual assaults on the Claimant’s mind and resulted in her psychiatric illness.    The Claimant’s claim therefore did not satisfy the criteria for a secondary victim claim for nervous shock and consequently her claim was dismissed.

If you would like to discuss any issue arising from a psychiatric injury, please contact the Clinical Negligence Team on 0800 316 8892.