Award of €225,000 By High Court Judge in Nervous Shock Case
The recent High Court decision of Mr Justice Barr in the case of Purcell v Long  IEHC 385 has dramatically raised the bar in relation to the monetary value for Nervous Shock in this jurisdiction. Previously damages in this respect ranged between €50,000 and €150,000. This award represents a steep increase in damages that may potentially be recoverable for nervous shock in Ireland. Mrs Purcell was awarded €225,000 in general damages for her injuries, a figure that far outweighs previous awards in this regard.
Nervous shock is the psychiatric injury or harm that a plaintiff suffers resulting from the negligence and/or breach of duty of another. Nervous shock is particularly prevalent in cases involving medical negligence. The plaintiff must apprehend injury or harm to themselves or another of a sufficiently proximate relationship such as a family member or a close friend. Nervous shock must extend beyond emotional grief or distress and is only recoverable for a recognised psychiatric injury. The courts have been slow in the past to recognise nervous shock as the injuries are by their nature subjective, variable and almost impossible to measure accurately. In the past there was a requirement that the plaintiff perceive the events with their own eyes, however this was rejected in Kelly v Hennessey  3 IR 253 and Purcell v Long  IEHC 385 would appear to affirm this position. This most recent judgment represents the most liberal approach to nervous shock in this jurisdiction thus far.
The facts are as follows, on the 26th of October 2009, the plaintiff’s son was on route to Cork Airport. On the way to the Airport the defendant’s vehicle was caused to travel onto the incorrect side of the road and collided with the vehicle the plaintiff’s son was travelling in. As a result of impact the plaintiff’s son and another male passenger were both fatally injured.
At 04.00 hrs the Plaintiff heard a knock on her door. She answered the door to find the mother of her son’s girlfriend and two Gardai standing at the door. She was informed of her son’s sudden death. She states that she never recovered from the shock of this. It was the plaintiff’s contention that she suffered severe psychiatric injuries as a result of hearing the news of her sons passing. It was argued that this caused her to suffer an acute stress reaction and severe depression.
Thereafter her marriage broke down and she returned to the UK to live with her sister. At this a point in her life she states that she was suicidal and that she made a number of attempts on her own life.
In cross examination the Plaintiff accepted that she had psychiatric issues prior to the time of the accident. She told her psychiatrist that pre-accident she had suffered from depression as a teenager. Nonetheless the doctor was of the opinion that the Plaintiffs depression was much greater than it had been prior to the accident and that she had not as of yet come to grips with the death of her son.
In relation to the future the Plaintiff’s psychiatrist attested that she will always be on anti-depressant medication and will never get back to her post-morbid position. She also expressed concern for the Plaintiff’s future well-being.
Evidence provided by a Forensic Psychiatrist on behalf of the defence also noted her turbulent family background, history of depression and psychiatric issues. His opinion was that the plaintiff was a vulnerable person at the time of the incident and he accepted she was in an “egg shell skull” type condition. He also accepted that her presentation after the incident was much more severe after the incident and that her life was as a result much less enjoyable than it would have been had the accident not occurred. He agreed that she had a somewhat bleak future.
It is against this backdrop that Mr Justice Barr assessed damages in this case. He was satisfied that the Plaintiff did indeed suffer a severe nervous shock resulting from hearing the news of her son’s death. He also accepted that she appeared to be a vulnerable person having regard to her prior psychiatric history.
He accepted that her depression would appear to make her unfit for gainful employment on the open market. The Plaintiffs prior psychiatric history rendered her vulnerable to further injury consequently it appeared to Mr Justice Barr that her current symptoms of depression will remain for the foreseeable future.
Having considered all the relevant factors and the pain and suffering inflicted on the plaintiff Mr Justice Barr awarded general damages for pain and suffering to date of €125,000; general damages for pain and suffering into the future of €100,000; and special damages of €150 amounting to an overall award of €225,150.00.
If you wish to discuss a potential medical negligence or personal injuries claim please contact Rachael Liston at 01 6376200 or