In English law, a nervous shock is a psychiatric illness or injury inflicted upon a person by intentional or
negligent actions or omissions of another. Often it is a psychiatric disorder triggered by witnessing an
accident, for example an injury caused to one’s parents or spouse. Although the term “nervous shock”
has been described as “inaccurate” and “misleading”, it continues to be applied as a useful
abbreviation for a complex concept. The possibility of recovering damages for nervous shock,
particularly caused by negligence, is strongly limited in English law Definition
To amount in law to “nervous shock”, the psychiatric damage suffered by the claimant must extend
beyond grief or emotional distress to a recognized mental illness, such as anxiety neurosis or reactive
depression. Damages for bereavement suffered as a result of the wrongful death of a close one are
available under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976, while courts can also award damages for “pain and
suffering” as a result of physical injury.
Intentionally inflicted nervous shock
Main article: Intentional infliction of emotional distress
It is well established in English law that a person who has intentionally and without good reason caused
another emotional distress will be liable for any psychiatric injury that follows. An example of this is a
bad practical joke played on someone which triggered serious depression in that person. The joker
intended to cause the other person emotional distress and will be liable for the medical consequences.
Negligently inflicted nervous shock
Main article: Negligent infliction of emotional distress
Before a claimant can recover damages for the nervous shock which he suffered as a result of the
defendant’s negligence, he must prove all of the elements of the tort of negligence:
1. The existence of a duty of care, i.e. the duty on the part of the defendant not to inflict nervous
shock upon the claimant;
2. A breach of that duty, i.e. the defendant’s actions or omissions in the circumstances fell below
what would be expected from a reasonable person in the circumstances.
3. A causal link between the breach and the psychiatric illness, i.e. the nervous shock was the
direct consequence of the defendant’s breach of duty;
4. The nervous shock was not too remote a consequence of the breach.