Galli-Atkinson v Seghal [2003] EWCA Civ 697

Key point

In negligence, psychiatric injury resulting from identifying the corpse of a close family member in the aftermath of the fatal incident can be of sufficient proximity to be deemed part of the ‘immediate aftermath’ to render the tortfeasor liable

Facts

G’s daughter died in a road traffic accident because of D’s negligent driving.

G arrived at the scene of the accident approximately one hour after the accident had occurred, and was informed by the police that her daughter was dead but G remained in denial.

Approximately two hours later, G went to the mortuary and saw the dead body of her daughter, as a result, G suffered significant psychiatric disorder.

To succeed, G had to prove that:

  1. she had a close tie of love and affection with the person killed;
  2. she was close to the incident in time and space, ie present at the incident or its immediate aftermath;
  3. she perceived the event or its immediate aftermath rather than hearing about it by a third person;
  4. the illness that followed was induced by the shock of the event or its immediate aftermath

At first instance, the judge rejected G’s claim for damages in negligence for her psychiatric disorder.

Issue

Did G’s perceive and suffer shock from the immediate aftermath of the accident such that D owed a duty of care to G?

Held (Court of Appeal)

Appeal allowed; the proximity test for psychiatric injury was met and the defendant was held liable.

The shock was not caused solely by G being told of her daughter’s death, this merely formed part of the immediate aftermath which caused the shock and the psychiatric illness.

Rather, the shock was caused by G viewing her daughter’s body in the mortuary, which was part of the immediate aftermath of the accident.

Latham LJ

‘In the present case, the immediate aftermath, in my view, extended from the moment of the accident until the moment that the appellant left the mortuary. The judge artificially separated out the mortuary visit from what was an uninterrupted sequence of events, quite unlike the visit to the mortuary under consideration in Alcock. The visit with which we are concerned was not merely to identify the body. It was to complete the story so far as the appellant was concerned, who clearly at that stage did not want — and one can understand this — to believe that her child was dead’: [26]

‘What the police officer said merely formed part of the immediate aftermath which caused the shock and the psychiatric illness. The evidence does not therefore support the proposition that the appellant would have suffered the psychiatric illness in any event, irrespective of her having gone to the mortuary’: [32]

Commentary

Lunney, Nolan, and Oliphant, Tort Law Text, Cases and Materials (6th edn), p. 350:

‘How (if at all) can this decision be reconciled with the ruling in Alcock that the relatives who travelled to Sheffield to search for their loved ones and subsequently identified their bodies in the temporary mortuary were not entitled to invoke the aftermath doctrine? ’