In the past this injury did not feature much in personal injury cases but, in recent years, the courts have had more experience in this area and greater access to medical experts to help them identify such a condition arising from accident injuries.
One aspect the courts must consider is that emotional distress can be slow in recovery.
The condition of emotional stress can arise from an accident or witnessing a traumatic accident or from medical negligence.
The condition can be manifested by:
• Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
• Panic attacks
• Adjustment disorders
• Severe anxiety
The Court of Appeal this year considered a case where a woman suffered PTSD having witnessed a horrific road traffic accident where she saw the partially decapitated body of a motorist who had crashed head on into a bus. The insurance company argued that her psychiatric injuries did not give rise to any cause of action, and she was not owed any duty of care. They also claimed that the plaintiff was only a secondary and not a primary victim of the accident. The Court of Appeal found in favour of the woman and held she was indeed a primary victim as her car had been struck by debris from the crash. The court found she was at risk of foreseeable physical injury and therefore a participant in the accident although on the periphery of it.
The critical evidence in these cases, whether PTSD or the other categories, is obtaining a clinical diagnosis. This involves undergoing a review by a consultant psychiatrist who reviews all the medical records, interviews the patient and forms an opinion. This kind of injury will require legal advice at an early stage so all the necessary steps can be taken correctly to establish and document your claim, so early contact with your solicitor is essential.