Alcock and others v. Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police
(Common law)
1991: British House of Lords

  • Overcrowding in the stands at a soccer match in Britain resulted in 95 people being crushed to death and 400 others injured
  • The Chief Constable of police admitted liability in negligence (the police allowed too many spectators to enter)
  • Sixteen separate actions were brought against him by people who were related to the dead. Some of them were present at the match (but not in the same area where the deaths occurred), others weren't.
    • They are claiming damages for nervous shock resulting in psychiatric illness resulting from seeing or hearing about their family members' deaths or injuries.

  • Can the established law on claims for nervous shock-induced injuries be modified such that these family members are included? (Under established law they would not automatically qualify.) This involves:
    • Allowing family members other than spouses or parents to obtain damages without having to prove a proximate relationship
    • Allowing a family member who sees an event on TV to obtain damages (i.e. not having to be there in person)
    • Not requiring that the aftermath be “immediate”
  • No. The existing law is applied. No claimant qualifies for compensation.

  • McLoughlin v O'Brian establishes the criteria for this type of claim. You can seek damages if the person who's died or been injured is your spouse or child, and the resulting shock comes about by seeing or the event or hearing about it in person, or viewing its immediate aftermath.
  • There was no foreseeability
    • only one of the claimants who succeeded before the trial judge was actually on the ground during the accident. He was the brother of a victim, but did not try to claim that he had a special bond with his brother that would make his own shock reasonably foreseeable by the chief constable (he didn't prove a sufficiently proximate relationship).

  • Family members other than spouses and children must still prove sufficiently proximate relationship to the victim of an accident in order to make a shock claim. Witnessing an event on TV is not sufficient to make a claim.

  • Shock is now considered its own type of injury (not a variant of physical injury).
    • It is the only case in which psychiatric injury can lead to recovery of damages (e.g. you can't claim damages for psychiatric injury from the experience of having to cope when your loved one has died)
    • It is generally accepted that you can't be compensated when the psychiatric illness results from merely being informed of, or reading, or hearing about an accident (must be near the scene of the accident).
    • Mental suffering alone is not a basis for a claim for damages (unless accompanied by physical injury)
      • An exception exists for damages for bereavement
    • If you injure yourself and this causes someone shock, they can't sue you