McLoughlin v O'Brian
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2009)|
|McLoughlin v O'Brian|
|Court||House of Lords|
|Date decided||6 May 1982|
|Citation(s)|| 1 AC 410,  1 AC 410,  2 All ER 298,  UKHL 3,  2 WLR 982|
|Transcript(s)||Full text of judgment|
|Negligence, psychiatric harm, proximity|
McLoughlin v O'Brian  1 AC 410 is an English tort law case, decided by the House of Lords, dealing with the possibility of recovering for psychiatric harm suffered as a result of an accident in which one's family was involved.
On 19 October 1973, a friend came to the claimant's (plaintiff's) house to tell her of a serious accident involving her husband and three children two hours after it had occurred. He drove her to the hospital where she saw her daughter dead and her husband and two other children seriously injured, all still covered in oil and mud. She suffered serious nervous shock as a result and sued the defendant who was responsible for the accident.
Earlier decisions in English courts had allowed victims to recover damages for emotional injury. This case was unique at the time because the claimant suffered injuries away from the scene of the accident and hours after the accident occurred.
This case is frequently examined by law students and students of legal philosophy. Legal scholar Ronald Dworkin used the case as subject matter in a hypothetical case examined by a fictional, ideal judge named Hercules in his book Law's Empire.
The lower court said the injury to McLoughlin was not foreseeable and ruled against her. The case was appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal allowed the lower court's ruling to stand. McLoughlin appealed once more to the House of Lords.
The House of Lords (Lord Wilberforce delivering the leading speech) gave judgment in favour of the plaintiff and laid out a test to determine whether somebody not directly involved in the accident could recover for nervous shock. This test required firstly a close relationship between the plaintiff and the victims of the accident, a criterion met in this case due to the close family ties. The test further required that the plaintiff was in close proximity to the accident in time and place. Although McLoughlin was not at the scene of the accident, it was held that witnessing the immediate aftermath, as she had done, was sufficient: '[insisting] on direct and immediate sight or hearing would be impractical and unjust'. A final requirement was that there was 'proximity by sight or hearing' to the accident or, as in this instance, to its immediate aftermath.