Liverpool Women’s Hospital v Ronayne [2015] EWCA Civ 588

Key point

  • This case provided clarification on what qualified as ‘shock’ in relation to liability towards secondary victims


  • The wife of C underwent a botched surgery due to the negligence of NHS staff, resulting in her having to undergo emergency treatment
  • C claimed that the sight of his wife being hooked up to machines and becoming severely bloated like the ‘Michelin man’ had caused him PTSD

Held (Court of Appeal)

  • C’s claim was rejected as C’s PTSD was not caused by a ‘sudden shocking event’

Tomlinson LJ

  • As Lord Ackner stated in Alcock v Chief Constable of the South Yorkshire Police [1992] 1 AC 310: “‘Shock’ in the context of this cause of action, involves the sudden appreciation by sight or sound of a horrifying event, which violently agitates the mind. It has yet to include psychiatric illness caused by the accumulation over a period of time of more gradual assaults on the nervous system.”
  • In this case, the event was not sufficiently horrifying by objective standards
    • What is required is something exceptional and in appearance of C’s wife is ordinary in the circumstances
    • The reaction of a person with ordinary robustness to the sight of his wife connected to monitors and drips would have been relief to see that treatment was given
  • There was no sudden appreciation of an event here because there was a series of events giving rise to an accumulation of gradual assaults on the C’s mind
    • He was conditioned to seeing his wife in her state by being told by medical staff of the severity of her condition and that she was being administered treatment