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Nervous Shock :

Nervous Shock is a personal injury to the nerve and brain structure of the body and hence damages may be recovered. Mental shock is a shock to the moral or intellectual sense of a person. Such a shock may be caused by the defendant’s acts or words without any physical injury or impact. No action lies for mere mental anguish, feeling or distress. But, if the shock is factual and real then “True nervous shock is as much a physical injury as a broken bone or a torn flesh”. The defendant is liable.


Two things are to be established:

  1. The defendant must owe a duty to the plaintiff, and
  2. The plaintiff must be within the area of potential danger or dangerous zone created by the defendant.

 If one of these is not established the plaintiff fails. The leading cases are:

  1. Bourhill V. Young (Fisher -woman’s case
  2. Wilkinson V. Downton (Grey hair case)
  3. King V. Phillips (Car backing case)
  4. Hambrook V. Stokes (Unattended Lorry case)
  5. Owens V. Liverpol Corporation (Mourner’s case)
  6. Dulie V. White (Horse Van running to a public house)
  7. Chadwick V. British Rly. Board (Rescue in Rail disaster)
  1. Bourhill V. Young

    P a fisherwoman, when she got down from a tramcar, the driver was helping her putting a basket on her head. Y a motorcyclist negligently collided on the main road, against a car and died. P did not see the accident but only heard the collision. The body of Y was removed. The tramcar proceeded on its way. P while crossing the road saw the blood on the road and suffered a nervous shock. She later gave birth to a still born baby and sued Y’s representatives for nervous shock.

    Held : Not liable. Reasons : 1) Y did not owe a duty to the fisherwoman, 2) It is no doubt true, she was within the danger zone created by Y but, as both conditions are not fulfilled, P failed, i.e., Y was not liable.

  2. King V. Phillips.

    D was negligently backing his car. He dashed against a tricycle rider boy. The boy was slightly injured but the tricycle was damaged. The boy’s mother heard the screaming of the boy, saw through the window the damaged tricycle but not the boy. She suffered a nervous shock. Held, D liable.

  3. Wilkinson V. Downton.

    D, as a practical joke, reported to W, that W’s husband was smashed in an accident. On hearing this, W suffered a shock and later her hairs turned grey. Held, D liable. The reasons are: D had a duty to W. By giving false news, he has committed a breach, and ii) W is within the danger Zone created by D.

  4. Hambrook V. StokesD’s driver had left unattended his lorry in running condition, at the top of a steep road. P’s wife W, who had accompanied her children to see them off to the school, left them near the bend of the road and was returning. Just then, she saw the lorry running towards her child . She was frightened for the safety of her children. A bystander informed her that a child (answering the description of her child) was injured. She suffered a nervous shock and later died. Held D was liable.

  5. Owens V. Liverpool CorporationIn a funeral procession, a few mourners were carrying the hearse. The tram car of D, negligently dashed against the hearse damaged it and the coffin was overturned. Seeing this the four mourners, who were the relatives of the deceased suffered a nervous shock. Held D liable.
    1. The shock was caused by what W saw with her own eyes; W could not see her child round the bend when the lorry was coming down violently. The assumption was that the shock was due to this situation created by D.
    2. The fear for children’s safety is not remote and in the circumstances D owed a duty to her. There was negligence, as the lorry was unattended.

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