Hunter v British Coal Corporation [1998] @LEXCLIQ BY KANUPRIYA BHARGAVA


Hunter v British Coal Corporation [1998]






The claimant (C) was driving down a road in a mine owned by the defendant business (D) when he collided with a hydrant, which caused it to spill water. C departed to hunt for a hose to redirect the water after attempting unsuccessfully to turn off the hydrant with a coworker. The hydrant exploded while C was away, killing the other employee.

Despite the fact that C did not see the tragic accident and was barred from returning to the scene, he claimed to have been shocked upon learning of the fatality. C filed a claim for psychological harm damages against D, alleging that they were negligent in performing their statutory responsibilities to maintain the roads. C’s claim was denied, despite the fact that he met the criteria for being classified as a primary or secondary victim, and he filed an appeal.

The defendant hired the claimant to drive an FSV at a coal mine. Due to low visibility, inadequate illumination, and poor floor conditions, he struck a water hydrant while driving his FSV, and the defendant breached a statutory obligation in regard to the required vertical clearance above the vehicle. The fire hydrant was also sticking out onto the road. The claimant came to a halt when he saw the hydrant was spilling water. He tried but failed to halt the leak by turning a valve. A coworker came to offer aid, but even with their combined efforts, they were unable to halt the leak. The claimant rushed out to locate a hose to channel the leaking water, but about 20 yards away, he heard an explosion from the water hydrant and dashed to shut off the water supply. Mr Hunter received word ten minutes later that his colleague had died in the incident. He felt immediately guilty for the killing, and this guilt led to a pathological mental condition. He filed a lawsuit against the employee for the psychological harm he had sustained. Mr Hunter filed an appeal after the trial judge ruled in favour of the defendant.


The categories of “main” and “secondary” victim established in Alcock v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire [1992] 1 AC 310 were applied in this case. Counsel for C argued that he was a primary victim throughout the incident, and that in attempting to deal with the negligently maintained hydrant, he was a participant in the incident, despite only suffering shock when he learned of his co-death, worker’s at which point he was no longer at the scene.



The appeal was turned down. (Dissenting opinion by Hobhouse LJ)

Mr Hunter was not a main victim because he was not present at the time of the explosion and did not learn of his death until 10 minutes later. He did not meet Lord Oliver’s criterion for a secondary victim in Alcock v Chief Constable of Yorkshire.

LJ Brooke:

The law will recognise a direct duty of care due by the person who does the act that causes the victim’s mental harm in the case of three different categories of main victims:

  1. individuals who are afraid of self-inflicted physical harm;
  2. People who come to a wounded person’s aid;


The Court of Appeal rejected C’s argument, holding that there had never been a case in which a person who had not been present at the scene of an accident and who had not arrived as a rescuer could recover damages for psychiatric injury as a primary victim; C lacked the required physical and temporal proximity to the accident. Furthermore, nothing in the Alcock decision suggested that H might be considered a secondary victim.




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